Layers of Fear (2023) Xbox review — A mostly good remake of a mostly good horror series

Bloober Team's Layers of Fear remake makes the good parts better than ever, but it'll never be perfect.

Screenshot of Layers of Fear (2023).
(Image: © Windows Central)

Windows Central Verdict

Layers of Fear (2023) makes full use of Unreal Engine 5 to elevate its visuals, lighting, and environments to all-new heights, reimagines the original Layers of Fear, and features brand-new DLC content to tie the entire story together. Layers of Fear 2 still struggles to compare, however, and scares often fail to land.


  • +

    Unbelievably stunning visuals and environments

  • +

    Improvements to the original Layers of Fear make it better overall

  • +

    New story content and format makes this the best way to play the series


  • -

    Not consistently scary

  • -

    Layers of Fear 2 (Actor's Story) is still a mess

  • -

    New Writer's Story DLC doesn't add a ton to the narrative

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I adore the original Layers of Fear. While it's a far cry from the more popular survival horror genre and is firmly a narrative psychological horror (what some may negatively describe as a "walking simulator"), it didn't take me long to fall in love with its twisted, visceral world and haunting tale of the weight of trauma, the effects of obsession, and the consequences of addiction, all wrapped in a macabre shell of layered paint and desolation.

Bloober Team may be seen as hit or miss as a horror developer, but I still maintain that Layers of Fear is a special game. Bloober Team decided to reimagine 2016's Layers of Fear in Unreal Engine 5, complete with the existing Inheritance DLC, a new The Final Note DLC, Layers of Fear 2 (the 2019 sequel), and a new The Writer DLC to tie all these spooky stories together. It's an ambitious anthology of art and horror, and it absolutely shines on the latest and greatest gaming hardware and consoles. It's not perfect, though, both because of lackluster new additions and lingering flaws of what already was.

Disclaimer: This review was made possible by a review code provided by Bloober Team. The company did not see the contents of the review before publishing.

Layers of Fear (2023)

Layers of Fear (2023)

This complete collection of the Layers of Fear horror series is always gorgeous but disappoints and confuses as often as it scares or amazes. It's the best way to play the series, but it's not a perfect reimagining.

Buy at: Microsoft (Xbox)

Layers of Fear: Visuals and performance

There's so much detail and personality in every room and hallway in Layers of Fear, especially the original game and DLC. (Image credit: Windows Central)

From the moment you begin playing, Layers of Fear (2023) begs to have its picture taken. Repeatedly. Bloober Team and its co-developer, Anshar Studios, brought the entire series to life in Unreal Engine 5, and the dedication to making this one of the best-looking horror series of all time shows in every moment of gameplay.

Layers of Fear (2023)

Developer: Bloober Team, Anshar Studios
Bloober Team
Install size:
~17 hours
Release date:
June 15, 2023
Price: $29.99
Xbox Series X|S, Windows PC, PS5
Reviewed on:
Xbox Series X

You don't just have to take my word for it. My Windows Central colleague, Miles Dompier, wrote that Layers of Fear (2023) properly demonstrates the power of Xbox Series X|S. Whether you play in Performance Mode for the slick 60FPS or in Quality Mode for more pixels and gorgeous ray-traced lighting and reflections, Layers of Fear is properly stunning. This is especially true for the original Layers of Fear and its surrounding DLC, which constantly impresses and amazes from both graphical and art design standpoints.

These visuals and stable, reliable performance aid Layers of Fear (2023) in building a morbid, terrifying atmosphere. The near-abandoned mansion that's home to the Painter, his family, and all their collective trauma oozes personality and horror in equal measure, with each wooden panel and stroke of paint driving home the terrible stories contained within these twisted walls. Bloober Team is showing the potential of both Unreal Engine 5 and the Xbox Series X (on which I played this game).

While the original Layers of Fear is dark and resplendent in its maze-like level design and massive, physics-defying set pieces, Layers of Fear 2 — or the Actor's Story — doesn't impress to the same degree. Yes, it's clear improvements have been made over the original 2019 release, but Layers of Fear 2 still feels separate from the original game, all the surrounding DLC, and additional content. With far less interesting and cohesive art design, a rather bland setting on a cruise ship that doesn't quite meld with the feel of the narrative, and a bevy of cliche or incongruous scenes, no amount of graphical advancements will make Layers of Fear 2 as memorable as its predecessor.

The Musician's Story is heartbreaking, especially when you already know the end. (Image credit: Windows Central)

It seems Bloober Team felt the same, as well, as the Layers of Fear 2 portions of this remade collection also feel independent from the rest of Layers of Fear (2023) from a gameplay perspective, but I'll get to that soon.

Stunning visuals and stable performance aid Layers of Fear in building a morbid, terrifying atmosphere.

First, an overview of bugs and overall stability. For the most part, Layers of Fear (2023) felt very polished. Performance was fantastic, load times were short (although loading screens were more frequent with the Actor's Story), and I experienced no game-breaking glitches or crashes. However, I did experience plenty of much smaller issues, like being teleported a few feet after a cutscene, or hand and arm animations being broken (the Musician's wrists will forever haunt me), and minor visual bugs surrounding Layers of Fear's many shifting levels and rooms.

I also managed to fall through the world to my death twice, both during the Actor's Story; once by being pushed by a moving wall, and the second time by walking through an open doorway that was supposed to have closed behind me. Several achievements that I knew I earned never popped for me, either, like completing the Daughter's Story (the Inheritance DLC) or walking a thousand steps. Finally, I observed multitude instances where voiceovers, transcriptions, and note text didn't match up (any combination of those three things).

Layers of Fear: New content

A descent into madness that cannot be halted or slowed. (Image credit: Windows Central)

The marketing for Layers of Fear (2023) was terrible. More than terrible; I genuinely had very little idea what exactly this game was until I started playing it. So, I felt it would be beneficial to describe what this game is, and the new content or changes you can expect in it. Firstly, this is not a new game in the series, nor is it just a remake of the 2016 original. It's more a reimagined collection of all Layer of Fear games and DLC, plus some extra content on top. Here's what you get:

  • Layers of Fear, or the Painter's Story
  • Layers of Fear: Inheritance, or the Daughter's Story
  • Layers of Fear: The Final Note, or the Musician's Story
  • Layers of Fear 2, or the Actor's Story,
  • The Writer DLC

Out of all of this, only The Final Note and The Writer are brand-new, with the former adding more to the original Layers of Fear story and the latter being the glue that holds the entire game together. Beyond that, the entire series benefits from improved visuals, lighting, and performance thanks to Unreal Engine 5 and current-gen consoles, as well as more settings and accessibility options.

This isn't a one-to-one remake — it's a reimagining supported by all-new content and enhancements.

The original Layers of Fear also benefits from plenty of changes. This isn't a one-to-one remake — Bloober Team took this opportunity to remove some of the worst received sections of the original Layers of Fear (like the infamous, meme-worthy moment of a doll infinitely running into a wall) to improve the game's overall quality of horror. There's also lots of new lore, notes, and voiceover to add to the story. Finally, the mansion is now a hub of sorts that players can explore between chapters; as you explore and learn more about this tragic family, you populate the mansion with those stories. You can return to those items and notes whenever you want, and also gauge what you might be missing if you're a completionist or achievement hunter.

The Inheritance DLC feels like nothing more than a visual facelift, but it does feel almost identical to the remade original game and new DLC content. I wasn't as familiar with Layers of Fear 2 before playing this game, but it doesn't feel like it received the same level of treatment as the original, which I'll detail more in the next section.

Layers of Fear: Story and gameplay

One of the brief moments of sunlight and hope in Layers of Fear, right before it's shattered. (Image credit: Windows Central)

I could talk at length about the stories in Layers of Fear (2023), but I'll refrain from full breakdowns to save this review's wordcount. In general, Layers of Fear is split into two main stories, the Painter's Story and the Actor's Story, with two supplementary stories for the former (Daughter's and Musician's) and one final story (Writer's) that ties everything together into one terrifying universe.

The original Layers of Fear and its DLC still remains the highlight of the entire series, telling a complicated and dark history of a family beset by tragedy, mental health issues, and fundamental breaks in relationships. You can play as all three members of the family (with the father, or Painter, being the focal point of the series) to get a complete picture of the story. It's macabre and depressing, and there are no happy endings here (consider yourself warned). Even if you played the original game, The Final Note (which tells the sorrowful story of the mother, or Musician), is a great addition to the series.

The original Layers of Fear and its DLC remains the peak of the series.

Layers of Fear 2, or the Actor's Story, lacks the consistency and drive of the original, unfortunately. The story is messier, more difficult to comprehend, and lacks that "special sauce" to tie it together. You play as the Actor, trapped on a cruise ship with an eccentric director out to make one more movie. But first, you have to "build the character" you'll play, reliving your tragic past with an abusive father, followed by you and your sister running away to live as stowaways on a cruise ship. It's not a terrible narrative, but it drags on too long and certainly struggles to compare to the original.

The Writer is the new overarching story to bring every Layers of Fear chapter together, and it's functional but otherwise brings little to the narrative experience. That is to say, it succeeds at transitioning the Layers of Fear series from separate games and experiences to one epic horror title with a new, more episodic format, but there's not enough substance in the Writer's own sections to make it interesting. There's not enough here to make since of the Writer's history or the lighthouse in which she's trapped; by the end, you're just left unsatisfied with what you know.

A new lantern mechanic slightly shakes up the gameplay of the original Layers of Fear. (Image credit: Windows Central)

Gameplay wise, Layers of Fear (2023) is almost exactly what I expected. It's a narrative-focused psychological horror rather than a more action-packed survival horror, so you're mostly walking through the carefully designed levels. You interact with the world by finding notes and objects that add to the story, solving puzzles, and opening doors and containers. There are also plenty of secrets to be found in every story, which can help you find alternative endings (including the "true" endings that often require multiple playthroughs) or earn achievements.

Bloober Team took from Layers of Fear 2 to add a pinch of combat to the original game. Now, you'll find a lantern that can be used to uncover secrets and repel the game's one enemy, which will hunt you in certain areas. In Layers of Fear 2, you'll find a flashlight that can be used to manipulate certain mannequins and freeze the game's one enemy, which will chase you down in certain areas. I didn't mind that there was no combat in the original Layers of Fear, but I see why Bloober Team went this route. Just know there's an option to make the enemies harmless if you'd rather not deal with that.

For the most part, though, you're guided through the game's linear levels to experience its stories. Every part of Layers of Fear (2023) feels utterly identical gameplay wise, except for small discrepancies in — you guessed it — Layers of Fear 2. For some reason, Layers of Fear 2 lacks audio for footsteps, has a different UX for interacting with the world (and smaller windows for the interact option to appear on objects and doors), different or no animations for holding objects at times, and slightly different movement controls (for some reason). Even the music, one of the highlights of the original game, is less potent and memorable here. None of this affects the experience too much, but it's another sign that Layers of Fear 2 didn't get anywhere near the same amount of love as other parts of this game collection.

Layers of Fear: Horror

There's so much to love about Layers of Fear, but its ability to terrify comes and goes. (Image credit: Windows Central)

In general, Bloober Team often feels like a studio that is intimately familiar with what scares people in horror, but doesn't understand why those things are scary, a necessary component to make full use of those terror techniques. The moments in Layers of Fear (2023) that genuinely scared me, made my skin crawl, or lingered in my brain minutes later felt less intentional and more like Bloober Team threw everything it could at the wall, and some of it managed to stick (really well).

Layers of Fear 2 suffers from this far more, because the original Layers of Fear and its supporting DLC massively benefit from the cohesion between the setting, the art design and environments, and the darker, more comprehensible narrative that is enhanced by everything else. These strengths shore up the original Layers of Fear's weaknesses and make it more terrifying overall, even if it still relies on more jump scares than it should.

There are plenty of scary moments in Layers of Fear, but there are even more moments that fall flat.

As I mentioned earlier in this review, the Actor's Story struggles with a less interesting setting and story, and Bloober Team shoves even more cliched horror moments into these shifting metal walls, even when they don't fit in the context of the wider game. The result is a game populated by sparse proper scares and a lot of "I saw that coming from a mile away" thoughts.

I never expected Layers of Fear (2023) to be among the scariest games I've played, but only the original Layers of Fear, or the Painter's Story, really embraces its psychological horror tag. The Inheritance and The Final Note DLCs focus more on the story than the horror, while Layers of Fear 2 and The Writer fail to stand out in the sea of excellent horror games. If you're only invested in the horror genre for the spooky moments, you may be disappointed by Layers of Fear (2023).

Layers of Fear: Accessibility

Exploring this ominous world has never been easier, although it can still be hard to see. (Image credit: Windows Central)

The original Layers of Fear was simple both in its gameplay and in its accessibility options. Accessible and approachable game design should be a focal point for any developer, so I was hoping to see positive strides forward with Layers of Fear (2023). Fortunately, my hopes were met; the Layers of Fear remake doesn't make significant alterations to the game design, but there are plenty of accessibility options to customize your experience.

There's lots of ways to customize the visuals and interface of Layers of Fear (2023), including interaction markers for all interactable notes, objects, and doors, a persistent crosshair, and toggles for motion blur, film grain, head bobbing, lens flare, and bloom. There are also granular audio sliders, a safe mode to effectively make you immortal against the game's few enemies, and an option to enable sensitive content warnings to help players who may struggle with difficult topics like suicide, self-harm, abuse, addiction, and more.

Layers of Fear makes great strides in accessibility and approachability, but there's still work to be done.

As for controls, there unfortunately isn't individually rebindable keys (even though the controls are laid out in the settings like they are), but you can customize some controls like the flashlight / lantern and draggable objects like doors to be a toggle instead. Finally, there are subtitles and plenty of ways to customize those subtitles, and text transcriptions for all notes in the game. There are no color-blind options, nor other visual options like highlighting interactive elements or increasing the brightness. There are also no ways to make puzzles in Layers of Fear (2023) easier or to provide hints, but the game's puzzles are generally straightforward.

I will say that Layers of Fear 2 feels a little less approachable than the rest of the game, if only because its movement controls are curiously different and the area in which you're able to interact with the game is smaller and more finnicky than in the base game, as I mentioned above.

Layers of Fear: Should you play it?

I still love Layers of Fear, even the much-maligned sequel, but I can't ignore its faults. (Image credit: Windows Central)

You should play this if ...

  • You loved the original Layers of Fear and want to experience the complete series at its best
  • You enjoy narrative-horror games with little to no action or combat
  • You want a longer horror game with a lot of content and a connected story

You should not play this if ...

  • You only enjoy survival horror games with a lot of gameplay elements
  • You want your horror games to be as terrifying as possible
  • You've already played both Layers of Fear games and aren't interested in the new content

It is difficult to ascribe a singular conclusion to my feelings on Layers of Fear (2023). In many ways, this is an impressive remake of a solid narrative horror series, with Bloober Team playing to its strengths and taking opportunities to improve its previous games. In other ways, this remake didn't go far enough to unite the entire Layers of Fear series or to patch the holes in the sinking ship that is Layers of Fear 2.

The original Layers of Fear and its supporting DLC content is still amazing, if not terribly scary, and this is definitively the best way to play all of it and see a new part of the story for the first time. On the other hand, Layers of Fear 2 isn't bad (I'd describe it as average, a good ole' C grade), but it does drag down the entire experience a tad. The Writer DLC also doesn't add enough to the game to justify its existence beyond connecting all the other stories.

Still, Layers of Fear (2023) is gorgeous at every turn, and absolutely packed with horror content. For a penny under $30, it's a fantastic value and can keep you occupied for hours. I was surprised by how much I genuinely enjoyed playing through the original Layers of Fear again, even though I 100% it in the past, and I firmly believe that, if you're at all interested in Layers of Fear, this is the quintessential collection. Is it one of the best Xbox games of the year? Not quite, but Layers of Fear (2023) still earns my heartfelt recommendation despite its weaknesses.

Layers of Fear (2023)

Layers of Fear (2023)

This complete collection of the Layers of Fear horror series is always gorgeous but disappoints and confuses as often as it scares or amazes. It's the best way to play the series, but it's not a perfect reimagining.

Buy at: Microsoft (Xbox)

Zachary Boddy
Staff Writer

Zachary Boddy (They / Them) is a Staff Writer for Windows Central, primarily focused on covering the latest news in tech and gaming, the best Xbox and PC games, and the most interesting Windows and Xbox hardware. They have been gaming and writing for most of their life starting with the original Xbox, and started out as a freelancer for Windows Central and its sister sites in 2019. Now a full-fledged Staff Writer, Zachary has expanded from only writing about all things Minecraft to covering practically everything on which Windows Central is an expert, especially when it comes to Microsoft. You can find Zachary on Twitter @BoddyZachary.