‘Layers of Fear’ Review – Reimagined Horror Experience Does Little to Improve Upon the Recent Past

When the original Layers of Fear was released back in 2016, the survival-horror genre was in a dire position. Sure you had games like Amnesia and Outlast carrying the torch of horror in the indie scene, but you saw most publishers shy away from the genre as a whole in a post Resident Evil 6 world. This was upended when Konami revealed that none other than Metal Gear creator Hideo Kojima and director Guillermo del Toro were collaborating on a brand new Silent Hill game, which was revealed with a playable teaser called P.T. That game never saw the light of day but ideas and concepts in the teaser helped inspire Bloober Team to create Layers of Fear, a moody and atmospheric horror game that focuses less on outrunning enemies and more on telling the story of one man’s descent into madness as he struggles to create his magnum opus.

Now in 2023, after numerous horror games and the shocker of an announcement that Bloober Team will be developing the remake of Silent Hill 2, we’ve come full circle as the team decides to revisit their roots before moving into a new era of horror gaming. The problem is, I’m not entirely sure Layers of Fear was actually worth revisiting, especially when this revisit does little to improve the original games beyond their original incarnations.

For the uninitiated, Bloober Team aren’t calling this new Layers of Fear a “remake” or “remaster” but instead a retooling of the entire series up to this point. The brand new Layers of Fear includes the original game, its Inheritance DLC, Layers of Fear 2, and a brand new chapter tying it all together, remade in an entirely new engine. The goal being to give players a definitive way to experience the elite Layers of Fear saga, in its entirety. The end result is not one I can entirely recommend, however, despite how ambitious the concept may be.

First and foremost, I don’t think enough time has passed between the release of the first Layers of Fear and now to warrant a remake of any sort. The original game was considered a “walking-sim,” guiding players through hallways of carefully curated scares. It wasn’t overly ambitious but was totally fine for what it was. This new revision saw Bloober Team go back and examine every single scare in the original game and determine if it would hold up today; sorry folks, the doll hilariously running into the wall has been removed. Unfortunately, the end result is a game that I don’t think is very scary. It boils down to loud jump scares that are ripe for YouTube let’s-players, but NONE of it truly brings the terror. This problem carries over to the new engine, which makes the entire game far too bright even after adjusting your settings. The oppressively dreadful mood of the original feels absent in this reimagined rendition of the game.

Layers of Fear 2 doesn’t fare much better. That first sequel was always a substantial step down from the original game and it hasn’t aged particularly well since its release, proving to be an absolute slog to get through and as a whole providing a far less interesting experience. It’s a shame too because I find the game’s “film” theme/setting to be more compelling than the painter set-up of the original. Bloober Team could’ve taken this revision as an opportunity to refine and clean up this sequel, but I feel that the lack of popularity of this entry left it behind.

Perhaps the most disappointing part of this new package is the new additional chapter titled “The Writer.” Bloober Team have talked up this chapter as the thread that will tie together the entire Layers of Fear series into one cohesive narrative circle. The problem is that the ways in which it ties into the rest of the series are unclear, mentioning moments from the past but never explicitly stating WHEN. It’s all so vague. The chapter is also a little on the shorter side, unless players explore every little nook and cranny; I estimate that it will take you no longer than one hour to fully experience this new chapter. “The Writer” is supposed to be the main draw to returning players who have already experienced these games in their original incarnations, and the fact that players can breeze through it leaves little to recommend this revision to those who’ve already been there, done that.

Layers of Fear feels like a celebration gone wrong. In an era of remakes and remasters that shine horror classics to a bright new sheen, Layers of Fear instead revises games that aren’t very old and makes them actively worse in the process. Sure this is a good way for new players to experience the entire series at once, but they’re getting a weaker version of the original game and a sequel that barely received any love to begin with. Returning players will find the new chapter lackluster, and I’m hard-pressed to recommend this to anyone, to be quite honest. There’s a lot to like in the Layers of Fear series, don’t get me wrong, but this revision focuses on the wrong aspects and leaves this celebration of the past a shell of its former self.

The original Layers of Fear came out in 2016, less than 10 years ago. It hasn’t aged terribly and still has redeeming qualities that make it worth playing, and it can also be bought for pennies in various sales throughout the year. This new reimagining, well, it proves that not every horror game needs to be remade or revisited. Sometimes, it’s a wholly unnecessary endeavor.

Layers of Fear is out now for the Xbox Series, PlayStation 5, and PC.

Review code provided by the publisher.

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