Layers of Fear (2023) PlayStation 5 Review

Yet again too many layers and not enough fear.

By JustAnotherJake, Posted 15 Jun 2023

Seven years ago, in 2016, Bloober Team released the game that would make them known in the industry. That game, of course, was the story-driven horror title, Layers of Fear. The game was popular enough for the team to make both DLC for that original game as well as a sequel, Layers of Fear 2 in 2019. But that’s not all. Now in 2023 Bloober team has released a new game with the same title as the original 2016 game. It's a bit confusing, but it makes sense as this new game is a compilation of the first two games and the side stories associated with them and, in a sense, the whole story rather than the individual pieces.

Layers of Fear 2023, PlayStation 5, Review, PS5, Screenshot, Horror, Scary, Mystery, NoobFeed

Layers of Fear (2023) does change things up this time with some added features and visual enhancements now that the game is running on Unreal Engine 5. But the biggest additions are the new segments that both tie up loose ends as well as present new story elements that link it all together. A new playthrough of the game will actually take the player through all of the segments and link them together with the newly added writer’s story. If a player wants to jump into any specific story, that option is there as well in the chapter selection. So players who are fans of the original titles who want to experience the new stuff or see how the new engine has affected the older titles, that option is there from the start.

With Layers of Fear (2023) being on Unreal Engine 5, the visuals have been turned up quite a bit. Everything simply feels more alive, and that is a huge factor in horror games. When things look real things feel real, even if it is for a split second. That’s not even mentioning the fact that the game also supports elements like ray tracing. There is a catch though, as in the PlayStation 5 version of the game, there is a mode that looks better but runs at 30 frames per second and a mode that doesn’t have all the bells and whistles but runs at 60 frames per second. The choice is left up to the player, but often times the scares felt more natural with the higher frame rate than with the better visuals.

Some of the worst elements about the visuals are how things pop and move when they are supposed to be transitioning. The biggest offender of this comes with the segments from the original 2016 Layers of Fear as a lot of that game had changing rooms where walls would disappear or change their orientation behind the player. In those changing moments it is easy to see changes in the lighting or sometimes the character would pop up for a split second making things feel a bit on the jarring side. Sometimes these quick jitters or lighting changes are enough for the game to be predictable removing some of that horror game tension.

Layers of Fear 2023, PlayStation 5, Review, PS5, Screenshot, Horror, Scary, Mystery, NoobFeed

On the previous note of lighting, Layers of Fear (2023) can oftentimes be too dark. This is helped with the addition of the lantern mechanic; however, before getting the item, there are moments where the player through the game feels like walking around in an open room while navigating by leaning against the wall. There are no options to change the brightness, unlike most modern games, so the best way around this is to change monitor or television settings, something that shouldn’t be required to see while walking down a hallway. In some areas of the game, this could easily be seen as intentional, and in some ways does help drive the player towards light-filled areas. But with some of those early areas without the lantern, there will likely be many players that become confused.

The best way to experience Layers of Fear 2023 is to search every nook and cranny, as there are objects hidden at every spot that give more lore to the story. Missing a few of these won’t hurt the experience, but getting as many as possible fills in all those little details that make the story that much more interesting. There are some things that are rather easy to miss, but thanks to the in-game indicator that shows up on all interactables, searching isn’t too hard. It is the more secretive items that usually go overlooked as they don’t give immediate rewards. There is a very large number of objects with text tied to them and luckily most of them have a voice-over to them, so a lot of the reading can be put aside while the player continues onward.

While it is nice to have so much on the story from Layers of Fear (2023) rather than hiding a lot of it, some elements of the story can become jumbled as the past events aren't told in chronological order. While this may be a smaller issue for some, there is a lot to actually go through, and that in and of itself can be a rather big issue. There are so many documents and objects to locate that a lot of the game can be spent either reading text or listening to a voice in the game read the text to the player. While there is a narration mentioned prior, t is often that several items or documents are next to each other resulting in the issue where instead of playing on, the player has to wait or read through before getting to the next one and simply walking on as the text is read aloud.

Layers of Fear 2023, PlayStation 5, Review, PS5, Screenshot, Horror, Scary, Mystery, NoobFeed

While the notes and other voiced-over parts are being read aloud, the quality of the vocal acting comes into question. Several actors feel a bit over the top with their performances and others feel bland. Nothing is outright bad, but the quality doesn’t quite feel like it fits in with the fact that the game is supposed to polish up on elements that the original games were lacking in. This is something Layers of Fear (2023) could have easily fixed simply by having the original voice actors return and rerecord some lines, but with how the game is now, it simply feels like the team cut some corners in this department. It is possible that some behind-the-scenes element came into play, like an actor being restricted or unavailable for a rerecording but with the state of the quality that should have either been addressed or fixed outright.

The story itself in Layers of Fear (2023) is a bit messy. While it is interesting that each story will differ from player to player, the actual quality is what jumps around. As most of the stories are from games across a ten-year gap, there are several elements that go into things, and the new writer’s story affects things in a whole different way. The biggest points of note come from the predictability of the Layers of Fear 1 story and the bland feeling of the Layers of Fear 2 story. The DLC stories are more so just continuations of the story from the first game, but as mentioned earlier, that has a new effect on the second game's story with the writer’s story segments.

The actual horror elements found in the entirety of Layers of Fear (2023) are hit or miss. A lot of it depends on how used to the horror genre the player is as well as how the player is going through the game. Running straight through the game without much of a search will result in a lot of moments that don’t result in scares, rather, it is the slow and analytical pace that will result in the most scares. In fact, most of the game seems to plan on players taking a slow and cautious look at things around them. The way objects in the environment change to create an atmosphere helps build that tension the game builds up. However, if the game is too scary for any players, there is an option in the settings menu that allows for the player to not be killed by enemies.

Layers of Fear 2023, PlayStation 5, Review, PS5, Screenshot, Horror, Scary, Mystery, NoobFeed

Horror games in general have what essentially seems like two common paths that they take in terms of gameplay. There are lore-heavy games that rely on big jump scares and environmental scares like what is in Layers of Fear (2023) or the more action survival-type horror games found in things like Silent Hill or Resident Evil. The big downside to the path that Layers of Fear (2023) takes is the fact that it sometimes feels less like a game and more like a roller coaster. There is less decision-making in these types of games, and with the lack of intractable objects or hiding places that other games like Soma and Amnesia have there leaves less to do in moments of tension. The solution to an enemy encounter is now just down to either running or using the lantern to eliminate the obstacle.

As much as it seems Layers of Fear (2023) is a new game with remade elements from the past, in truth it is just a collection of games with some new story-linking content. This isn’t a huge problem, but it may cause some confusion in the market of people who were familiar with the older games. However, with this new game sharing the exact same title as the original game, it almost seems like the Bloober team is trying to make this the true, official, and complete experience for those who want to play through the story that they set up ten years ago. With the added story elements, this seems even more likely. It isn’t as if the creators are trying to erase the original experience; it was rather an attempt to make it all whole for their fans.

Layers of Fear 2023, PlayStation 5, Review, PS5, Screenshot, Horror, Scary, Mystery, NoobFeed

It is truly unfortunate that all of this effort seems to fall off to the side as there are so many elements that simply don’t feel right with the overall Layers of Fear (2023) package. Surely those who are already fans of the series will be over the moon with the added content and better look to the game, but as it stands that may be who this game is already targeting.

It certainly feels like the type of game built for people who love YouTubers that play horror games, as it is easily accessible and not a very difficult game to get through. It is a game built to get a reaction from the audience and not much else. Layers of Fear (2023) just doesn’t seem to scratch that itch that many will be looking for when searching for a game to play. It does do many things right in the sense that it does feel like a scary game, but it certainly isn’t for everybody.

Jacob Cowsert (@TweetJAJ)
Editor, NoobFeed

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General Information

Platform(s): PC, PS5, XBSX, PS4, Xbox One
Publisher(s): Bloober Team
Developer(s): Bloober Team, Anshar Studios S.A.
Genres: Survival Horror
Themes: Psychological Horror, Mystery, Puzzle
Release Date: 2023-06-15

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