A little over 10-years ago, the horror genre was given a right-good shakeup with the runaway success of Amnesia: The Dark Descent. Guns were on the out, and defenseless protagonists facing off against unspeakable, unseeable monstrosities were in. Those tropes got pretty darn old, pretty darn fast and that’s where Layers of Fear 2 comes in. Capitalizing on the success of the original, and the genre that inspired it, Layers of Fear 2 manages to stumble around in the dark like a sleep-deprived toddler before tripping over its own feet and plummeting down the stairs to an early grave.
I’m On A Boat
You play as an unnamed, mostly unfaced gentleman who has found himself with a spot of amnesia (in more ways than one) and is stuck on an early 1900’s ocean liner. A few audio snippets in conjunction with some notes scattered around your lodgings give you a basic idea of why you are here, and what it is you are supposed to be doing. After finding an old-fashioned camera – reels and all – the game begins proper, and the “horror” is quick to follow.
Layers of Fear 2’s plot takes an age to get going, let alone interesting. This is amazing considering the game is only 5-or-so hours long. It’s so far in the background, with so little impact, that the only reason I was plodding through the twisted reality that lay before me was because the game told me to – not because of anything particularly compelling. There is a story here, however, it’s neither interesting nor very good. It acts more like a set dressing for the horror than anything else.
They Forgot The Horror?!
This is a crying shame because the horror isn’t all that great either. Horror is of course subjective – what one person finds pants-wettingly-spooky could fail to phase another. However, Layers of Fear 2 falls into a more objectively un-scary category because you can almost see the horror before it appears. Layers of Fear 2 is painfully formulaic to the point you can map the Wiggins out, almost to a tee.
The game roughly follows a pattern of walking; walking with spooky stuff happening; doing a puzzle; getting chased; walking, and repeat. These distinct categories are tangible and left me knowing exactly when I was safe and when I wasn’t. For the vast majority of the game, if you are not being chased, you are not going to be in any danger. This removes any tension from the game and leaves you with horror gaming’s most egregious sin – the jump scare.
Layers of Fear 2 leaves you with nothing but obnoxiously loud noises and flashing imagery and expects you to be scared. It simply doesn’t work. It also relies heavily on tropes that have existed in the subgenre for so long that, like everything, I could see coming long before they arrived. A prime example is rooms and corridors changing when your back is turned to simulate a nightmare. The illusion doesn’t work if the participants know it’s coming.
It Gets Worse
Despite its failings thus far, Layers of Fear 2 manages to continue its descent into ghastly design with its use of the aforementioned chase. Chases are nothing more than exercises in frustration, not horror. They appear out of nowhere, will likely kill you before you can react appropriately, and then on a second pass, you will bypass them effortlessly before they spawn in. It’s trial and error gameplay at its worst. It’s not scary and it’s not tense – it’s irritating and can thankfully be turned off.
Since the game is as horrifying as a sunny day in spring, there is no reason to play the game in any mode other than Safe – I wish I had. Safe mode keeps the monsters but removes death and chases. You would assume this would make the game worse, but you would be wrong. It removes a vexatious element of the game’s core design and is made better for it.
Things go from bad to worse when played on the Nintendo Switch as the game runs terribly from start to finish. The game cannot maintain a solid frame rate and will judder constantly, making it the most terrifying aspect of Layers of Fear 2. The game also heavily employs post-processing effects that make everything look smeared and unpleasant when in motion. Heck, if you turn too quickly you can see reality itself start to tear, revealing nasty stark white lines in doorways.
If that wasn’t bad enough, even when you ignore the performance issues and graphical hiccups, Layers of Fear 2 is just ugly. Too much of the game is spent with a hideous black and white filter, ruining whatever art style the game might have had. This lack of style is carried over to the monster design, which is comically unoriginal to the point I am fairly certain a newborn baby would laugh at it. At least the game has half-decent voice acting because lord knows, nothing else in this game looks or sounds good.
Layers of Fear 2 on the Switch is a horrible port of a bad horror game that relies on well-worn tropes that ultimately left me feeling bored, not scared. Nothing here is original, the game functions in a barely passable manner, and it can 100% be skipped unless you’re in the market for a mind-melting migraine with a side-helping of banality.
LAYERS OF FEAR 2 IS NOT RECOMMENDED
Many thanks go to Bloober Team for a Nintendo Switch review code for this title.
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Forged in the rainy wilds of northern England, I carved a path of mediocrity through generations and genres. My play style is often described as: “optimistically awful”.