By Ronald Gordon
We’ve all heard of famous method actors who torture themselves in order to play a role just right. A famous example of this would be Heath Ledger who, in preparation to play The Joker in Christopher Nolan’s “The Dark Knight,” locked himself in a hotel room to practice the Clown Prince of Crime’s trademark laugh and mannerisms. But what if an actor’s character wasn’t something he had to develop, but instead was a product of his own demons?
Layers of Fear 2 is a psychological horror game developed by Krakow-based Bloober Team. In the game, you play as an actor who’s been sent on a cruise in order to prepare for a role you’ve been given. However, this role is unlike any other, mainly because the director of the movie works in mysterious ways and sometimes even drives his actors mad with the methods he uses.
The story starts out with you on the cruise ship, seemingly alone because most of the ship is blocked off to keep disturbances to a minimum. Soon, you begin to uncover more and more things about your past, which is what the director wants you to tap into. Like many people, you have some inner demons and past traumas that you carry with you, which are exactly what the director wants you to face. This is because your task is to “Build the character,” as stated multiple times and on many occasions. In order to build the character, though, one must break down the actor.
Layers of Fear 2 is unique as it plays off the mechanic from the original Layers of Fear, where the environment changes as you progress. Some doors you go through will lead to other places, or lock behind you to keep you from leaving through them. Hallways you travel down will suddenly grow longer once you turn around, or even disappear completely and turn into dead ends. Entire rooms may even reappear when you try to exit them, making you feel as though you’re trapped in a loop until something different happens and you get to move on. These kinds of mind games, and the fact that most of the music is a mix of ominous and unrecognizable beats and tunes makes the whole gaming experience, at least for me, something that causes a lot of nervous sweating.
Aside from the dreadful feeling of not knowing what comes next, Layers of Fear 2 also brings the fright of being chased by a violently twitching horror, as you soon run into an entity that can only be described as a nightmare come to life. At first, it looks like a well-dressed mannequin with a noir-ish color scheme, making it seem out of place as everything else is normal. However, once you approach it, the mannequin turns into a stark white, human-like monster, reminiscent of what appears when you burn a piece of film with the image of a person’s body on it. There’s no way to defeat it, since this isn’t a game that gives you a weapon or a way to trap it, so your only option is to run as fast as you can away from it. This should be easy, since it moves more slowly than you do, but most of the places you encounter it are strange maze-like areas that aren’t easily navigable unless you’re quick on the uptake. So chances are, you’re gonna die a few times before you can get away from it.
My only experience with the first Layers of Fear game was seeing it in videos online, and after playing Layers of Fear 2, I can see how both games appeal to people. They seem to know just how to get into the minds of the player and toy around with the experience in the most spine-chilling ways. Layers of Fear 2 puts you in a state where you feel just as troubled as the actor who has to push through his inner demons and face his past, in one of the most horrifying ways possible. As you play, you often find that there are sudden shifts in the atmosphere, and what seems to be a safe place can quickly turn into a tense escape room if needed. Layers of Fear 2 is definitely a horror game I’d recommend to anyone looking for some premium grade nightmare fuel and who enjoyed the mind games that the first Layers of Fear brought to the table.
Freshman intern Ronald Gordon is creating the City Tech College chapter of the New York Videogame Critics Circle.