I never played the original Layers of Fear, though I did play its sequel—and I wasn’t a big fan. However, the first game was lauded for its use of psychological themes and accompanying imagery, so I was eager to finally get a chance to play it, built from the ground up in Unreal Engine 5. Unfortunately, while Layers of Fear is a gorgeous game, its shiny new graphics can’t hide the fact that it really hasn’t aged well.
Layers of Fear is a first person horror game that follows the story of three people, referred to as the Painter, the Actor, and the Writer. This latest installment in the series can be a bit confusing, so here’s an explanation:: This latest Layers of Fear release is actually Layers of Fear (2016) and its sequel Layers of Fear 2 rebuilt in Unreal Engine 5, with both of their stories tied together by an overarching narrative and the introduction of a new character. It’s an interesting way to tie the two games together. However, the gameplay that was so effective when Layers of Fear (2016) released has been well-tread now by developer Bloober Team and others.
Most of the gameplay in Layers of Fear involves walking while looking at items and suffering the occasional jump scare. There are some puzzles to solve, but these are sparse. When people derisively describe walking simulators, I don’t know how the Layers of Fear series isn’t mentioned more often. It doesn’t feel like a game so much as a haunted house. While it's effectively spooky, it never comes close to invoking true terror. Instead, it’s just trippy imagery and walking. Rinse and repeat for hours.
While the developers were no doubt going for an unsettling depiction of characters descending into madness, there isn’t enough to ground the player to what’s real. And because of that, there aren’t any narrative stakes.Even failure (when it’s possible to fail) is just a temporary setback. If the majority of the game plays out like a nightmare, after a couple of hours it starts to lose its effectiveness.
Despite the dominantly boring gameplay, there are actually some moments that got my heart racing. This is when Layers of Fear truly shines. However, these truly scary moments are too far between with long stretches of often nauseating psychological torture that ended up being torture on me.
Even the story in Layers of Fear is lost in all of the howling and madness. Any pretense of subtlety flies out the window within the first few minutes of gameplay, and you’re forced to suffer through ham fisted portrayals of tragedy and angst. For instance, in The Artist segment of the game there is a moment where the character is remembering feeling alienated because of their status as an artist, so the next room has a fish flopping on a saucer with the words “out of water” written on the wall.
Layers of Fear isn’t particularly effective in its gameplay or storytelling, but it sure is pretty to look at. Bloober Team has used every bell and whistle available to them in Unreal 5 to make these games look better than they ever have before. With Ray Tracing and HDR support, Layers of Fear is one of the best looking games I’ve played this year. However, that’s really just putting lipstick on a pig.
I know there are people that absolutely love Layers of Fear (2016) and I wish I was one of them. I feel like I missed the boat, and was subjected to so many imitations that I can’t appreciate Layers of Fear (2016) for how groundbreaking it was. Sadly, that means my patience for Layers of Fear wore thin, and I could only play it in short bursts. Even then, I felt like I was twisting in the same never-ending corridors hoping to find an exit. Luckily, it really only takes pressing the Esc key and quitting to desktop to get out of that nightmare.
A Steam key was provided to us for this review