Title: Layers of Fear
Developer: Anshar Studios
Release Date: June 15, 2023
Reviewed On: PS5
Publisher: Bloober Team
Genre: Horror Adventure
Since the release of 2016’s Layers of Fear, developer Bloober Team has thrived in the atmospheric horror genre. However, I feel like the series overall has always been divided. Either you enjoy this type of horror experience, or you don’t. Creating this divide within the horror genre is notable, coming from such a small team of developers who continue to push themselves further down the rabbit hole of narrative horror. In collaboration with Anshar Studios, they return to their roots with a remake of Layers of Fear developed in Unreal Engine 5. The result is a much more polished experience with new context to tie everything together. It’s one that is made to pique the interest of new players while providing a few updates to make it worth it for old fans to jump back into this physiological nightmare.
Layers of Fear is truly the definitive release of this series, containing the first game alongside the Inheritance DLC, The Final Note DLC, Layers of Fear 2, and The Lighthouse Chapter. Instead of being able to choose which game you want to play from the menu, the stories have been interwoven to tell the story from beginning to end. For example, you’ll start as The Writer stuck in a lighthouse and forced to piece together a story, but this leads into the story of the Painter, and periodically, you’ll check back in with The Writer as the stories connect.
It allows the players to experience the narrative chronologically to piece together the events and fully understand the narrative. It also made revisiting this story a bit more interesting as I caught references and narrative points I had missed the first time through. The story becomes even more digestible with the inclusion of The Final Note DLC and The Lighthouse Chapter.
The Final Note changes the perspective of the Painter’s Wife, and we discover some haunting new realizations about the part she played in the story. She offers an entirely different take on the overall story and clears up some of the previous plot holes. Further, The Lighthouse Chapter brings the entire story home and connects all the events. I think this is the most important content in the game as it also shows off Bloober Team’s advancements of their own skills in this genre while not creating something that feels disjointed from the rest of the game.
However, the most standout aspect of this remade effort is just how amazing this game looks. I made a few comparisons to the original, and they almost look like two different games. While the atmosphere was always a significant focus of this series’ horror elements, the lighting and environments couldn’t keep up with the narrative and sound design. In this release, everything is balanced, and the horror flourishes because of it.
You’re left playing the role of the investigator through these in-game halls as you explore each room. The team chose to limit some of the gimmicky interactable objects to instead focus on fine-tuning the experience and keep the player moving forward. This makes the environments feel less like a playground and more like refind set pieces that have a story to tell.
This also shows up in the music and overall sound design, which has also received some touch-ups. The layout of each game is more or less the same, but the path toward the key story sections has been remade to keep the focus on the horror aspects, including the jump scares sprinkled throughout the halls.
Layers of Fear rarely wants you to feel stumped. Its puzzles are generally surface-level, and although you may feel lost at times, the right path will typically show itself sooner or later. Layers of Fear 2 has some more interesting aspects of character writing and puzzle designs, but no entry of this series tries to one-up the other. Instead, we’re left with a cohesive narrative horror experience from beginning to end.
That said, the experience is relatively linear, but there are plenty of collectibles to find across your playthrough that encourage exploration. However, you don’t have to and can push through the game by simply moving forward. It’s interesting to see all the ideas come together here, and in many ways, it works, but if you didn’t like the game before, no coat of paint or additional DLC will change your mind.
Layers of Fear is the definitive release of this series that packs up everything with a nightmarish bow. The added story and context are compelling enough for new players to reexperience the adventure. Still, the restructuring of the game really makes this a marvelous experience for first-time players. The night-and-day comparison between this release and the original title is incredible and just hints at what we can expect from this team.
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