The original Layers of Fear is probably what Bloober Team is best known for, and serves as the flagship project that brought them to critical fame. So what exactly is this 2023 game of the same name? It’s not exactly a remaster of the 2016 version nor is it a remake. You can see it as a modern reimagining that seamlessly compiles all the previous Layers of Fear titles. This includes all the content from Layers of Fear (2016), Layers of Fear Inheritance, and Layers of Fear 2 whilst adding brand new material that wraps all the narratives together. The best thing about it is that it’s priced at a humble $30 for essentially 2 full games, 1 DLC chapter, plus new content.
While the first title had you step in the shoes of a painter, the Inheritance expansion had you play as the painter’s daughter, and the second game had you take the role of an actor. This 2023 reimagining introduces the writer as the final protagonist. This is featured in the new lighthouse chapter of the game that ultimately serves to bind the lore together. It also adds a never-before-seen DLC chapter titled The Final Note, which has you play in the perspective of the painter’s wife from the first game, allowing you to get the full picture of the story. So essentially you are getting the complete definitive package of Bloober Team’s magnum opus.
If you played any of the previous Layers of Fear games, then you probably already know what type of gameplay to expect here, because not much has changed. You still spend most of your time walking around creepy environments, interacting with various objects, reading through lore documents, and solving puzzles. The game can get quite uneasy and confusing at times, especially with how much it tries to trip you up with unexpected jump scares and psychedelic transitions. While you were completely defenseless in the original games, this remake does give you a supernatural lantern that enables you to burn the ghastly entities that stalk you. There’s no combat in this experience and you won’t be able to kill the ghosts, but at least you’ll get a few seconds of respite thanks to this newly added mechanic. The lantern, obviously, also serves a practical purpose, allowing for more illumination during exploration.
Many quality of life updates have been included in this 2023 rendition, most notably the handy dandy chapter select screen. The first two Layers of Fear games feature three separate endings depending on certain selfish or selfless choices you made during your playthrough. The chapter select availability allows you to jump into any chapter of the game to make different choices without having to replay the entire game again if you want to achieve a different ending. Aside from this, it also allows you to revisit any section of the game if you ever wanted to. Unfortunately, it’s sort of baffling not to show an in-game timer or have multiple save files, as starting a new game entirely rewrites your existing one.
But is the game scary? To be honest, not really. Yes, the game is marketed as a psychological horror title and it does put you on edge with how creepy everything is. Don’t get me wrong, the game is quite disturbing and often messes with your head. However, you’re never put into a situation where you feel like you’re in danger, even when there’s a scripted chase sequence. There’s practically no threat for most of the game, which is pretty much just a walking simulator. Even if you do manage to die, the auto-checkpoints are more than generous, and you just carry on with the linear experience. Just because it wasn’t scary for me doesn’t mean it won’t be for you, because Layers of Fear still executes fantastically on plenty of horror tropes. The immaculately set atmosphere does more than a great job in telling a narrative focused on heavy mental health related themes.
To no one’s surprise, Layers of Fear performs beautifully on the PlayStation 5, with gorgeous visuals and buttery smooth performance. Load times are near instantaneous off of a fresh launch of the game and frames never took a dip or stuttered. Two modes are offered: graphical which targets 4K ray tracing at 30 fps or performance which targets 60 fps. Some DualSense features are utilized, such as the controller speaker and some haptic feedback from the adaptive triggers when opening certain doors, but way fewer than I had hoped for. I expected some technical hiccups here and there due to the trippy nature of the constant shifts in environments, but there were none as all the transitions were flawless.
The true potential of Unreal Engine 5 is put into practice here, especially with the Lumen system featuring dynamic illumination and reflections. Know that this game is built entirely from the ground up using UE5, and is one of the first ever games of its kind. Environmental assets look beyond photo-realistic, with highly detailed textures and particle effects, to the point where I have to constantly remind myself that I’m playing a video game. It’s an understatement to say that this is a pretty good looking game because it is undoubtedly one of the most visually impressive feats out there, period.
Each protagonist voices their respective roles candidly, ultimately bringing the story to life. I was surprised to see that even the various notes and letters found throughout are read out loud. Most games of this nature just have you read to yourself! An eerie yet emotional soundtrack serves as the backdrop of what can only be described as a subliminal atmosphere, with solemn violin and piano themes playing in the background. Unsettling sound effects, such as a baby’s distorted wailing in the other room or the cries of a woman in the distance never failed to send chills down my back. The overall sound design combined with the already magnificent visual presentation makes for an immersive experience.
I’m glad to see that Bloober Team and Anshar Studios have included a slew of accessibility options into this reimagining of their horror masterpiece. Aside from the basic options of tweaking subtitle sizes, background opacity, and text transcriptions, it also includes a safe mode and sensitive content warning toggle. Keep in mind there are no difficulty options when starting a new game, so having these options means that more players from all backgrounds can enjoy the experience as well.
Layers of Fear
Layers of Fear 2023 stylishly combines Bloober Team’s flagship games into one beautifully terrifying definitive edition. The reimagined and drop dead gorgeous visuals built entirely from the ground up alone are reason enough to revisit these titles, but the added cherries on top are the brand new chapters that wrap all the narratives together. It’s a must play for anyone into psychedelic and psychological horror experiences, but may come off a little underwhelming for anyone looking for something truly scary.