Layers of Fears review

Layers of Fear (2023) Review – Fearing the Worst

Paint by numbers.

Layers of Fear (2023) on PS5

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It’s a tale as old as time: The talented artist versus their turbulent battle with insanity has always been inextricably linked together. From the deeply twisted expressionism and symbolism of Edvard Munch to the bold and vibrant neo-impressionism of Vincent van Gogh, history has long painted gifted creatives in a truly tortured, troubled light.

Conceptually and thematically, this is at the heart of Bloober Team‘s latest release; a remastered double bill of its first two Layers of Fear titles, replete with all DLC as well as some additional content to keep fans busy. But are the duo of first-person horror experiences relics from a bygone era or are they truly worthy of your time in 2023? Well, there’s much to discuss!

Kicking things off, I think it’s worth mentioning that I played the first Layers of Fear game back in 2016 and was really enamored with it. Unfortunately, I skipped the second game, so playing it in this collection was a first for me. What I will say before really getting into the meat and drink of this review is that I feel the game’s debut is undoubtedly of a higher caliber than its slightly more bromidic follow-up. But I don’t want to get too ahead of my skis. Let’s begin with the remake’s narrative.

Layers of Fears review
Image Source: Bloober Team

As alluded to in the intro, players assume the role of a handful of gifted creatives excelling in their own distinct fields. First, we have an accomplished author and depressed mother who has won a writing competition with the reward of a vacay at a remote lighthouse in the middle of nowhere. Hooray for isolation and loneliness, huh? Her story punctuates and bookends the overarching narrative of Layers of Fear (2023), with the meta approach of her ostensibly acting as the author of the game’s previous journeys.

Next up, we have an alcoholic painter hellbent on finishing his magnum opus at the cost of the lives of his loved ones. His story comprises the first title in the collection, and it’s easily the most engaging and interesting of all the tales within Layers of Fear. Meanwhile, rounding out the cast is a famous Hollywood method actor filming his latest project aboard a seemingly haunted cruise liner as he follows the instructions of an ominous director, which encompass the events of Layers of Fear 2.

Moreover, we also step into the abused shoes of the painter’s wife from the first game, who is both a loving mother and a musical virtuoso on the piano. Finally, it’s nice to see the welcome inclusion of the debut title’s Inheritance DLC, which sees you playing the role of the aforementioned couple’s daughter. Suffice to say, there are plenty of talented artists, with plenty of trauma and anxiety for Bloober Team to tap into. So, let’s delve a little deeper and shine a torch on what Layers of Fears does right.

Layers of Fears collection review
Image Source: Bloober Team via Twinfinite

Atmospherically, Layers of Fears is remarkably strong thanks to its splendid audio design, mind-bending puzzles and Victorian setting. Some of the artwork within the game is absolutely sublime, and there were a number of times where I’d just stop and gawk at a painting for a few minutes just to drink it all in.

The eerie echo of footsteps on oak, the creaking of a rusty door opening, even some of the newly added voice work are all worth a mention — sure, these elements of audio design may sound pretty routine for a horror game, but these small details are critical for immersion, and I’m happy to report they’re all largely handled with care and attention.

Furthermore, some of the horrific set-pieces are very well-orchestrated and a couple made me truly jump out of my skin a few times. However, where the title really shines brightest is in some of the profoundly disturbing imagery that Bloober Team has managed to cook up. Specifically, one set-piece involving a projector and a wee acrobat walking on all fours springs to mind from Layers of Fear 2. Trust me, when you get to that section, you’ll understand!

Layers of Fears review
Image Source: Bloober Team via Twinfinite

Despite these positive attributes, however, the game feels as though it’s built on wobbly foundations, especially when looked at through a modern lens. See, while the “Walking Simulator” moniker is a rather derogatory term, it’s fair to say that it does help illustrate what you’ll be doing during the title’s second-to-second gameplay. And I’m gonna go on record and just say it as it is: the Walking Simulator sub-genre that was all the rage during the late-noughties/ mid-2010s simply hasn’t aged all that well. There, I said it.

But this alone isn’t what sinks Layers of Fear (2023) into more middling territory. Sadly, the overall storytelling across the board just feels overwhelmingly uneven. As you’re drip-fed notes and memos during exploration, it quickly becomes clear that the central mystery at the heart of the story is largely at odds with its commendable atmosphere.

Frankly, the disconnected nature of how the narrative is parlayed to the player is far from ideal, and I lost count of the smorgasbord of nameless characters who I was meant to care for. Sure, I connected on an emotional level with the myriad central figures I assumed control of, especially as the thoughtfully designed symbolism of the environments helped to demystify their mysterious backgrounds and origin stories. But, my eyes glazed over by the time I picked up the third letter from the family solicitor, or the fourth memo from the local banker prattling on about finances or other humdrum topics.

Layers of Fears collection review
Image Source: Bloober Team via Twinfinite

Moving onto the puzzles themselves, and while a few are creatively designed, you can’t escape the fact that almost all of them are ponderously repetitive PT-esque trial and error brainteasers that rarely make a lick of sense. For instance, I was stuck in one locked room for ages, and had explored high and low, only to discover that if I’d looked inside a specific bucket, it would teleport me to the next area. Random or what? Every so often, the method of solving one of the game’s many conundrums feels completely and utterly bone-crushingly arbitrary.

For those unaware, this updated remake adds two new stories into the mix — the Painter’s Wife and the Writer — which amount to around an additional three-ish hours of extra content, as well as some brand-new gameplay segments. Without spoiling too much, there are now a few sequences that see you holding off a spooky old lady — who looks ripped straight out of Kojima’s aforementioned failed Silent Hill project — with the beam of your flashlight. It’s largely a welcome addition, but her appearances do start to get old pretty fast.

Compared to the two main games in the collection, this additional content doesn’t really add a huge amount of meaningful lore to the overall tale, but it does help flesh out the painter’s wife, who is definitely one of the more sympathetic characters in the entire mythos of Layers of Fear. Still, the extra gameplay elements and supplemental content don’t feel particularly essential per se, though your mileage may vary depending on how steeped in the overarching “Rat Queen” lore you are.

Last of all, I’d be remiss if I didn’t call out the numerous bugs, frame-rate hitches, and generally poor technical problems that Layers of Fear (2023) is plagued with. From my experience, I’d highly recommend switching to Performance mode, but even in this mode, you’re likely to come across plenty of frame-rate dips, which was pretty disappointing to see.

All told, when Layers of Fear (2023) is firing on all cylinders, it feels like a genuinely mind-bending thrill ride as pathways behind you twist and contort in the blink of an eye. These qualities are best exemplified in the lithe and tight debut title. That said, what truly flies in the face of the collection’s overall charms is its uneven storytelling, repetitive puzzles, and buggy technical performance. In essence, much like the fractured psyches of the artists that form the soul of these vignettes, Bloober Team’s latest collection is simultaneously beautiful, fascinating, and deeply, profoundly… aggravating.

Layers of Fear

In essence, much like the fractured psyches of the artists that form the soul of these vignettes, Bloober Team's latest collection is simultaneously beautiful, fascinating, and deeply, profoundly... aggravating.

Pros
  • Strong psychological horror atmosphere.
  • A handful of profoundly eerie set-pieces and an effective use of imagery.
  • Laudable audio design.
Cons
  • Uneven storytelling.
  • Some scares don't quite land and begin to feel a little too one note.
  • A few puzzles feel far too trial and error.
  • Frame-rate hitches.
  • Ran into several bugs that required me to restart my console or load to a previous save.
  • A lack of genuine threat undermines the stakes.
A copy of this game was provided by the publisher for review. Reviewed on PS5, Xbox Series X|S, PC.

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Author
Image of Dylan Chaundy
Dylan Chaundy
Dylan is a Senior Writer at Twinfinite and has been with the site for over two years, and in the games media industry for over a decade. He typically covers horror, RPGs, shooters, Roblox, indie titles and movies, and loves reading, pizza and skateboarding; ideally, at the same time. He has a degree in English Literature from Aberystwyth University, Wales. He thinks FTL may be the most perfect game ever created.