Layers of Fear
Image via Bloober Team

Layers of Fear Review: Not That Many Layers

Layers of Fear needs more layers.

Marketed as a reimagining of the original game, Layers of Fear isn’t quite the revisionist masterpiece it wants to be. Often feeling more like a hastily slapped together director’s cut, the latest Layers of Fear package falls flat. Despite some interesting additions, it fails to elevate Bloober Team’s first-person horror franchise.

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Layers of Fear introduces a frame narrative whereby a writer wins a contest and ends up writing a novel in the confines of a lighthouse. This narrative is meant to recount the in-world events surrounding the painter and his wife from the original Layers of Fear based on documentation and research. This framing device attempts to thread Layers of Fear and its sequel, which originally featured zero narrative connection whatsoever.

Screenshot by GameSkinny

Conceptually, I think it’s a great foundation for a winding meta-narrative to expand the universe. Practically speaking, it fumbles the premise. While the main games feature solid performances, the writer’s sections feel like a D-grade series adaptation from an underequipped fan. Without spoiling anything, an event occurs that involves the writer going ballistic and making demands of a caller on the other end. I found the whole interaction incredibly stilted, with a lack of urgency, distress, or any real emotion throughout.

Despite trying (really trying), I couldn’t bring myself to feel an attachment to the goings-on, especially when the actress herself seems so detached. Beyond this, the writer’s story barely feels justified, abruptly ending as if the team gave up on the narrative conceit halfway through. The new threads between Layers of Fear and Layers of Fear 2 feel more like sly winks and nods than a proper reappraisal of the universe.

It’s not just the framing device that fails to move the needle. Layers of Fear also adds a new DLC entitled The Final Note. Following the musician’s perspective from the original game, it’s meant to solidify further the attempts at connecting the two Layers of Fear titles. Unfortunately, The Final Note left me wondering if it was even necessary at all. There’s nothing you learn about her that you couldn’t already gather from Layers of Fear and its original Inheritance DLC. Its inclusion is baffling, but not quite as baffling as the newly advertised gameplay mechanic.

Screenshot by GameSkinny

The lantern is the major mechanical addition here, which can dispel shrouds of darkness surrounding certain objects. It can also temporarily disable the musician during the sequences in which she chases the painter. I think a new gameplay mechanic is the perfect canvas through which to reinvent a flawed title. In the end, however, the lantern largely amounts to nothing. Bloober Team and Anshar Studios have slightly revised certain sections of chapters in addition to some puzzles. However, layout alterations are so minor that you can still rely on walkthroughs of the original title.

Puzzle alterations are equally as subtle, with any changes funneling you forward with more obvious clues within the framing of nearly identical actions and scenarios. Within the context of a walking simulator, simplified puzzles work in service of keeping the narrative moving, even if they are overly straightforward at times.

Luckily, other changes fare better, such as Layers of Fear 2’s lantern equivalent. In this case, it’s a flashlight that acts like a film camera, animating mannequins once the filming begins. This is used to solve simple puzzles, such as animating a mannequin to turn a valve beyond your reach. More importantly, the new flashlight mechanic sees a massive workout during the beast chases. On multiple occasions, you’re tasked with running away while using the flashlight to move mannequins out of your way in time. It adds a great deal of tension that was otherwise missing.

All notes also feature full voice acting throughout the series, with solid performances across the board. This creates a more consistent experience, considering voice work existed elsewhere with whisper objects and cinematics. Fans of the old games will also remember the series’ classic disembodied approach to item interactions. This previously let players rotate any object with 360 degrees of freedom.

Screenshot by GameSkinny

Layers of Fear’s 2023 iteration features proper body awareness with a fully modeled character. In practice, expect to see yourself reflected in mirrors with ray-tracing enabled, along with physically picking up objects with your hands. The more limited range of motion is a minor tradeoff for the added immersion. One Layers of Fear 2 item interaction, in particular, feels more impactful due to the physicality involved. 

The visual overhaul further enhances this presence. Utilizing Unreal Engine 5, Anshar Studios and Bloober Team have radically transformed the original look. While it still doesn’t look cutting-edge, the new rendering features allow for a significantly more atmospheric experience. The implementation of Lumen global illumination and reflections showcases imperfections, but it’s still a massive leap over the Unity-based originals. In the case of the original Layers of Fear, especially, the overhaul legitimately enhances the horror.

At the end of the day, however, neither Layers of Fear nor its sequel are excellent games. They’re average at best, often featuring compelling visual direction and thematic elements at the expense of engaging level design, interactions, and writing. Layers of Fear 2 is the worst offender with an enticing setting about an actor in the process of filming a movie dragged down by a narrative that pales in comparison to the original.

Layers of Fear Review — The Bottom Line

Screenshot by GameSkinny

Pros

  • The definitive versions of both games…
  • Changes like full body awareness and additional voicework add to the games
  • The visual upgrade drastically enhances the atmosphere

Cons

  • …but neither game is that great to begin with
  • Most changes, like the lantern mechanic, barely add anything
  • The frame narrative feels rushed and inconsequential

Layers of Fear is difficult to recommend to anyone but hardcore franchise or genre fans. Newcomers might as well play this package over the originals seeing as they’re the definitive versions of each game. It’s a shame that a definitive version of a Layers of Fear game still doesn’t receive high praise. Layers of Fear 2023 feels like it wants to be a more substantial remake, meanwhile being too afraid to go the extra mile. If Bloober Team took the time to radically change the titles, along with further fleshing out its frame narrative, we could have had something special.

[Note: Bloober Team provided the PC copy of Layers of Fear used for this review.]

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Layers of Fear Review: Not That Many Layers
Layers of Fear needs more layers.

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Author
David Restrepo
David is an avid brownie fanatic that has written for sites like GameSkinny, TechRaptor, and Tom's Guide. He loves almost every genre that exists, but RPG's and action games are his comfort place.