Layers of Fear 2 Xbox One review: A solid and atmospheric horror game that falls short of greatness

This horror title focuses on the theme of identity, but ironically the game struggles to find one of its own.

Layers of Fear 2 is the highly-anticipated sequel to the original Layers of Fear from 2016, which took the gaming community by storm with its incredibly well-designed puzzles, hauntingly effective horror atmosphere, and cohesive well-written narrative. Unfortunately, the sequel doesn't live up to its predecessor's lofty standards. While the atmosphere of Layers of Fear 2 is top-notch and the jump scares are cleverly done, the puzzles are not as good overall this time around, the narrative isn't nearly as cohesive, and the game's imagery feels more like a vehicle for random horror film references then something that ties into the story effectively. Still, if you're looking for a horror title that will keep you on edge and give you a good scare, Layers of Fear 2 is a solid experience overall.

What you'll love about Layers of Fear 2


In Layers of Fear 2, you play the part of a famous Hollywood actor who is looking to make it big by starring in a film set on a cruise ship. However, as with any horror title, things don't go as you expect. As you explore the ship's various decks, corridors, and rooms, it becomes abundantly clear that something sinister is going on. Entire rooms move position, doors don't lead to the place they did before, and countless mannequins — static and moving — seemingly appear everywhere you turn.

And above it all, a shapeless monster stalks you through the bowels of the vessel, threatening to consume you. As you start to lose your grip on what is and isn't real, you begin to question your very identity. A nameless voice poses a question: did you become an actor to hide from a troubled past, to pretend that you're someone that you aren't?

Layers of Fear 2 has an incredibly tense atmosphere that will keep you on your toes.

As you try to find the answer to this intriguing question, you end up becoming completely immersed in Layers of Fear 2's superb horror atmosphere. The genius behind this game is that it paces its different moments. Tension, shock, and intrigue are all balanced perfectly; this is in contrast to many other horror titles, which often saturate the player with so many scares that they become predictable and ineffective. The game's visual fidelity is beautiful, and it offers a broad range of varied environments. Bright or dark. Spacious or claustrophobic. Colored or black and white. All of these things exist within the levels of Layers of Fear 2, and the way that the game shifts between them ensures you'll never feel like you know what to expect.

Likewise, the sound design and musical score are excellent. Layers of Fear 2 has moments of both complete silence and constant background noise, with everything between — like with the varying environments, this shifting keeps the player on edge and prevents you from ever feeling comfortable, which is important in a horror game. The score is effective at adding to the tension and mysteriousness of the whole affair, as there are tracks that perfectly suit every moment you spend on this strange, terrifying adventure from the start of the game all the way to the credits rolling.

What you'll love less about Layers of Fear 2

As awesome as the game's atmosphere, pacing, and story concept is, it isn't nearly as cohesive of an experience as the original game. The story's emphasis on the theme of identity and anguish about the past is creative and clever, but the issue is that often times, what you see in the game doesn't really tie in to that idea. The atmosphere is amazing from the perspective of unsettling and scaring the player, but from a story standpoint, it feels more like a random mishmash of horror film references instead of something related to Layers of Fear 2's own narrative.

Initially, the callbacks to classics like Nosferatu and The Shining had me grinning, but by the end of the game I was left wondering how they were relevant. The story itself also loses its focus in the latter half of the game, turning into something rather generic instead of sticking to its core themes. In this way, it feels like Layers of Fear 2 itself struggles to find an identity.

A fair amount of Layers of Fear 2's puzzles have convoluted solutions that left me irritated.

In addition to this, the puzzle-solving gameplay is overall pretty average. Some of the puzzles are laughably easy, while others are maddeningly difficult and have incredibly convoluted solutions that made me want to facepalm once I figured out what they were. What's worse, they seem like they are placed randomly. Some of the harder puzzles in the game appear in the first two acts of the story, while the final three are home to some of the easiest. While the progression of the atmosphere in the game is paced perfectly, the pacing of the puzzle gameplay segments is rather poor. The vast majority of the puzzles are fine, and some of them have really clever mechanics, but the ones that aren't fine really hamper the experience.

In terms of performance, the game is mostly without problem, although there is one particularly nasty issue with texture loading that I experienced. Rarely, when entering a new area (particularly when swinging open doors), the textures on the edges of the screen take about half a second to fully render and load in. During that brief moment, the missing textures are replaced with boxy dark blue shapes that completely kill the moment-to-moment immersion of the killer atmosphere. I'm not sure if it's an issue specific to the Xbox One X, as that's the console I used to review Layers of Fear 2, but regardless, it was pretty grating when it happened. Thankfully, it was a rare issue so I didn't have to deal with it too much, but it may potentially occur more on an Xbox One or Xbox One S.

Should you buy Layers of Fear 2?

Ultimately, I think Layers of Fear 2 is a solid horror game, even if it struggles to keep a cohesive story and doesn't have the best puzzle gameplay. The game is effective at making the player feel tense and pacing its scares well so you never know what to expect. And, if nothing else, the quality of the graphics and the audio is a treat.

If you're looking for a horror experience that perfectly weaves tension, presentation, and narrative together like the original Layers of Fear did, then Layers of Fear 2 will disappoint you. However, if you're simply looking for a freaky experience to play after dark, you'll enjoy Layers of Fear 2 quite a bit.

Layers of Fear 2 is available now on Xbox One, PlayStation 4, and PC for $30.

Brendan Lowry

Brendan Lowry is a Windows Central writer and Oakland University graduate with a burning passion for video games, of which he's been an avid fan since childhood. You'll find him doing reviews, editorials, and general coverage on everything Xbox and PC. Follow him on Twitter.