Bloober Team made waves when the original Layers of Fear came out in 2016. The psychological horror game was released right at the start of the Survival Horror renaissance and presented players with a deeply haunting tale about a painter driven to madness as he attempts to create his “masterpiece.”
Wildly successful at the time, Bloober team went on to expand Layers of Fear into a successful series with multiple entries and eventually moved on to deliver more horror experiences with Blair Witch and The Medium. With the recent announcement that Bloober team is taking the reins on the Silent Hill 2 remake, the team has decided to go back to their breakout hit to close out a chapter of their history as they prepare to move forward. In a hands-off demonstration and Q&A, we were given a first look into what’s new in the world of Layers of Fear.
My presentation started with a glimpse into the new section that focuses on “The Writer.” Bloober Team says that this all-new storyline will tie together the entire Layers of Fear series including the first game, Inheritance, and Layers of Fear 2. Though I was given little context, the writer seems to have traveled to a secluded lighthouse in hopes of finishing her novel. As she explored the environment I felt a sense of the atmosphere Bloober Team was looking to establish. It felt different from the rest of the Layers of Fear series but also fit right in.
While walking through the lighthouse you can see the gameplay improvements Bloober Team has applied as there are far more interactable objects all created in a good amount of detail from Unreal Engine 5. No story bits were shown in this segment but we got to see a conversation the writer had with her son on the phone as he encouraged her to stay and write her novel. I’m not sure how expansive this new storyline is, but I’m hoping it is enough to pull returning players in; the prospect of it, from what I’ve seen, seems very ambitious.
The next segment we were shown was a portion of the first game entirely rebuilt from the ground up. The developers told me that the game plays out in a non-linear fashion and that environments may look familiar but needed reworking to have wider hallways and environments. I was curious as to why there would need to be such a change but this is where a new gameplay element rears its head. While in its original release back in 2016, Layers of Fear was somewhat of a walking simulator. Players explored the home of a painter and didn’t do much else as the story played out. Now in this new Layers of Fear, the painter will be equipped with a lantern that allows him to discover secrets hidden and the environment and fight off new enemies.
A scene we previewed shows him facing off with a paint-like enemy and using the light from the lantern to purge it from existence. It reminded me a lot of Alan Wake with the light-based combat and it seems like an addition that will round out the gameplay experience. The developers have stated that despite the new addition they hope to remain true to the original game’s experience. They have even gone back and re-assessed every single scare in the original game and gone to great lengths to see if they hold up in modern contexts. No more meme-worthy doll scares here. The developers have also promised even more new level designs in store and all new puzzles, so your knowledge of the original 2016 game will not apply here.
The developers seem keen on remaining faithful to the Layers of Fear experience while applying lessons that they’ve learned from subsequent games. The attention to detail in the new Unreal Engine 5 environments really shines thanks to a complex lighting system implemented as well. But I walked away from the showing with some concerns. Mostly in the aspect of combat being added. How often will we encounter enemies? Are there other enemy types? Will it pull away from the well-known atmospheric dread that the first game is known for? What’s changed in Layers of Fear 2? I’m also curious about a storyline about the Painter’s Wife that we were told about but not shown and how the Writer’s story will bring all 5 storylines together in a cohesive package.
While a lot of this remains to be seen, I can’t help but be curious about what Layers of Fear has to offer for new and returning players. It’s ambitious, and Bloober Team are aiming to have this be the definitive experience. We’ll soon find out just how successful they are.
Layers of Fear will arrive for PC via Steam, PlayStation 5 and the Xbox Series in June.