What is it? A remake and repackaging of two psychological horror games about artists descending into madness.
Release date June 15, 2023
Expect to pay $30 / £25
Developer Anshar Studios, Bloober Team
Publisher Bloober Team SA
Reviewed on i7-7820X, GeForce RTX 2060 SUPER, 16GB RAM and Ryzen 9 5900X, RTX 4080, 64GB RAM
Steam Deck N/A
Link Official site
When the Layers of Fear remake was first announced, I didn't understand the need for it. Whilst the original game is seven years old now, it still looks great and it's still as scary as ever—so why bother? Especially when developer and publisher Bloober Team is already hard at work on Silent Hill 2, a rather more hotly anticipated remake. After playing through it, though, I get it. I understand why the developers felt they had to remake this, and why they felt it was important to do it now more than ever.
Layers of Fear 2023 is, confusingly, both a remake of the original 2016 release of Layers of Fear and the 2019 release of Layers of Fear 2—with both titles being completely remade in Unreal Engine 5 and smushed together into one cohesive package. The original game was greatly inspired by 2014’s PT (the demo for the now cancelled Silent Hills) but has a lot more in common, gameplay-wise, with the Amnesia series. You’ll be spending the majority of your time carefully skulking through a handful of different haunted locales, gathering clues, solving puzzles, and doing your best not to wet yourself as you’re hunted by a series of different monsters.
Every story focuses on a different silent protagonist, but the most important are The Painter, a man obsessed with producing the perfect portrait, and The Actor, a disgraced thespian who is hand-picked for the starring role in a new feature film. Each tale takes you to a unique (and haunted) locale, such as an abandoned lighthouse, a dilapidated family home, and a film set on a cruise ship. As the stories unravel, they slowly paint a bigger picture of how each character’s obsessions with artistic perfection has damaged the lives of those around them—and how their thematically appropriate hauntings may be the consequences of their own misdeeds.
The main change that differentiates the 2023 release of Layers of Fear from the original two games is the introduction of an entirely new story, The Writer, which serves to tie all of the original stories present in the first two titles together. This inclusion recontextualizes the first two games and makes them both a part of a larger narrative, giving the game as a whole a sort of Twilight Zone style horror anthology vibe.
Within the individual stories, it's far from a straight 1-for-1 remake, with plenty of subtle changes and improvements to the original games. Fans of the original Layers of Fear will find a lot of the scares have been tweaked in ways that will subvert your expectations and keep the terror fresh, and the expert use of Unreal Engine 5 helps amp the photorealistic horror up to 11.
Those who haven't played any of the original games are in for an even bigger treat however, with four distinct stories and multiple endings to choose from in each. There's also been specific focus on the introduction of certain accessibility options that were noticeably absent from the first title, as well as some overall quality of life additions— such as every note and collectible having full voiced dialogue. Given the $30 / £25 price tag, Layers of Fear feels like an absolute steal for a title of its quality and length. Playing through every story and achieving every ending took me roughly 30 hours—I suspect it'll be even longer for those unfamiliar with the original titles.
I played through Layers of Fear on two separate builds, one that was somewhat underpowered (i7-7820X, GeForce RTX 2060 SUPER, 16GB RAM) and another that was somewhat overpowered (Ryzen 9 5900X, RTX 4080, 64GB RAM). Both builds played the game at an extremely consistent framerate, and I didn't experience a single crash throughout the entirety of my playthroughs. I was extremely impressed at how well the i7-7820X build performed given how dated the hardware is, especially considering how visually impressive Layers of Fear is.
I did run into a few bugs, though nothing that I'd say tarnished my overall experience. There was one moment I managed to clip myself out of bounds and softlock myself, but this was solved with a quick reload and only served to lose me about 30 seconds of progress. There were also a couple of times where picking up items caused them to temporarily clip through the scenery, and reading notes at the wrong time often caused the dialogue to interrupt itself.
A pigment of your imagination
The biggest real criticism I can make of Layers of Fear is that some of the scares do lose their edge the longer you play, especially when you realise how little consequence death has and how generous the checkpoint system is—although rushing through it for review probably made those seams show a little more. It's also fair to say that when compared to the original, the updates to Layers of Fear 2 feel somewhat less impressive given that the game is only four years old—although perhaps that’s more of a compliment to how well Layers of Fear 2 has aged compared to the first game. Regardless, the sections taken from the first game undoubtedly feel like the standouts—but this contrast is thankfully offset by the introduction of the completely new story that ties the content of the original two games and their DLCs together.
It's hard not to see the stories in Layers of Fear as metaphors for the remake's existence. Every story, including the new one created just for the remake, in some way deals with the themes of perfectionism and criticism of art—and remaking these titles has given Bloober Team, in conjunction with Anshar Studios, an opportunity to show everyone how much it's improved since 2016.
Layers of Fear 2023 doesn't feel like a remake for the sake of a simple cash grab, or a fallback for a studio out of ideas; it feels more like a declaration of intent. This is easily the best game Bloober Team have put out yet, and its existence serves to show everyone why they believe they're the right people to helm the Silent Hill 2 remake—and I have to admit, they've convinced me. Just like that, I've gone from being ambivalent about Silent Hill 2, to cautiously optimistic.