Bloober Team's original Layers of Fear (2016) became an almost overnight gaming sensation when its mind-bending Steam Early Access version gave players some truly imaginative sights. The sequel continued the original's themes of tortured artists, but swapped a painter for an actor, and offered arguably even more inventive visuals. Both games were, in my opinion, fine, but nothing more. Now, reborn on Unreal Engine 5 with new content interspersed with what was there before, Layers of Fear (2023) looks to be the definitive way to experience the horror series. However, its haunts remain largely empty. The new engine makes the game a visual benchmark, but it still feels more like a haunted house at a theme park, offering the illusion of danger but never something sincerely threatening.
Perhaps the first hurdle in critiquing the series' reinvention is explaining exactly what this package offers. Layers of Fear and its sequel both return roughly 80% the same as you may have experienced them before. Some scenes have been redesigned or added--or even removed, if my memory serves me correctly. Both games receive new but ultimately shallow mechanics allowing for a few combat sections in which you'll need to blast stalking ghosts with light to stall them while you escape their maze-like settings. The first game's brief Inheritance DLC is also included, and a brand-new DLC meant to wrap the series up more neatly than before, The Final Note, makes its debut.
The best part of all of this is actually the framing narrative, The Writer's Story. Built directly into the game as you progress through its connected parts, you'll routinely jump back to a lighthouse where a writer tells the story of the game's other haunted artists: the painter, the actor, and the musician. Like those in the main games, the writer is dealing with her own hauntings, and I find the format classy and quite novel for the medium. It feels like a horror anthology, such as V/H/S, only in this case, all the individual stories ultimately share a universe.Continue Reading at GameSpot