Layers of Fear (2023) review: Art is long, life is short

Technical flaws aside, the new and improved Layers of Fear is the franchise's magnum opus.


The Layers of Fear series established Bloober Team’s place in the horror game genre, offering several thrilling tales that focus on artists and their descent into madness. In what serves as the magnum opus of the franchise, the new Layers of Fear combines the chilling stories told in the first two games with a new chapter that narratively weaves together the entire series. While the new Layers of Fear will be recognizable to fans of the original games, enough changes have been made to elevate the series and provide a more robust experience throughout. 

The writing on the wall

A screenshot of the writer's room in The Lighthouse.

Source: Bloober Team

Built from the ground-up in Unreal Engine 5, Layers of Fear (2023) takes everything in the franchise, including Layers of Fear, Layers of Fear 2, and The Inheritance DLC, and combines them into a seamless experience complete with visual enhancements that include Ray Tracing, HDR, and 4K resolution. Layers of Fear introduces a new storyline called The Lighthouse, which focuses on a novelist who moves to a mysterious lighthouse to work on her magnum opus. The writer is the connective tissue that binds each of the tales together for a cohesive narrative.

While a dark entity seemingly lurks in the shadows of the lighthouse, the nameless writer conjures a tale about a troubled painter whose family falls apart as he gradually succumbs to his own mental affliction. This should sound familiar, as she is basically writing the story of the first Layers of Fear. Alongside the writer’s story is an additional chapter called The Final Note, which explores the painter’s mansion from the perspective of his wife, a talented musician who has fallen from grace.

Broad brushstrokes

A screenshot of a distorted painting on a canvas in a dark room in Layers of Fear.

Source: Bloober Team

For the most part, Layers of Fear is a walking simulator with some light puzzle-solving thrown in, which isn’t a bad thing. The game emphasizes exploration, as discovering and collecting keys and items are what trigger story progress. The player spends much of their time traipsing through narrow corridors, opening doors and cabinets to find notes and other objects of interest.

While much of Layers of Fear remains the same, there are several gameplay additions this time around that help streamline the experience. For instance, the artist has a lantern that can melt through evil-corroded objects and doubles as a ghost-buster when necessary, allowing you to stop evil spirits in their tracks for a quick escape. A flashlight acquired in The Actor story grants the ability to animate mannequins, making it a handy puzzle-solving tool. The room layouts have also been altered somewhat from the original and there are less places to search for hidden objects to reduce the overall tedium of exploration.

A screenshot showing the painter facing a dark figure in front of a series of paintings.

Source: Bloober Team

As you poke around ominous rooms and hallways, you will be occasionally tasked with solving a puzzle or riddle to unlock a door or reveal the path forward. The riddles are easy enough to solve, as the solution typically involves keeping an eye out for clues in your surroundings, such as numbers that correspond to a combination lock, for example. Your lantern and flashlight can also be used as tools to solve puzzles and reveal hidden details in the environment.

While there is no real combat in Layers of Fear, there are multiple occasions where you will be stalked by a dark entity that plagues the halls and will kill you if they get close enough. Depending on the story being played, you will have either a lantern or flashlight to defend yourself with, giving you mere moments to find an escape route, lest you succumb to evil. There are also a few stealth segments that involve ducking behind cover to avoid detection. While these segments inevitably slowed down the pacing, they were few and far between, so I ultimately didn’t mind them.

Despite the occasional enemy encounter, Layers of Fear for the most part lets players go at their own pace and explore the surreal world without the threat of death constantly looming around every corner. Such a setup is conducive to a narrative-driven game like this, as it allows players to focus more on the story than on survival.

Theater of the mind

A screenshot of a room full of frames on easels, some clear in the center.

Source: Bloober Team

Crafting a moody atmosphere is crucial for most horror games, as doing so can go a long way towards building tension and suspense. Luckily, a creepy atmosphere is something that Layers of Fear accomplishes quite well. Horrific original artwork as well as famous paintings by artists like Francisco Goya line the hallways, depicting grotesque scenes of violence and death that set the tone for the harrowing journey ahead. Classical piano tunes are juxtaposed against the unsettling echoes of ticking clocks and scurrying rats, with ambient sounds that add to the burgeoning sense of dread.

As a narrative-driven game, much of the story is told through a series of notes you collect along the way, many of which are fully voiced. The voiceovers would sometimes come across as awkward or jarring and occasionally would not match the note's written transcription on screen. While voiceovers on notes can be disabled in the settings, they are generally a welcome addition that help bring the different characters to life, despite a few cringeworthy deliveries.

You almost had it

An screenshot of a mannequin coming through a hole in the wall to hand the player a ball.

Source: Bloober Team

My time in Layers of Fear was not without a few technical problems. I experienced several crashes in different chapters, which would set me back somewhat depending on how long it was since my last autosave. My flashlight stopped working entirely about halfway through the Inheritance chapter, and though it eventually fixed itself, I could have done without the added frustration. 

While Layers of Fear may not have you constantly at the edge of your seat, there are a smattering of jump-scares and some genuinely hair-raising moments. Players who want to experience the various endings to each story can replay chapters in Chapter Mode, which is separate from the campaign and does not influence your main playthrough. This gives players a means to experience the outcome of different choices without having to go through the whole campaign again, a thoughtful addition for the more narrative-focused players. 

Finish it

A screenshot of three artworks hung on a wall behind a rotary phone, which sits on a table in the center.

Source: Bloober Team

Though it is not without its fair share of flaws, the revamped Layers of Fear contains everything that fans enjoyed about the original series and elevates them with improved visuals and new gameplay mechanics that help alleviate some of the monotony. The writer’s story offers an intriguing through-line that sensibly ties together each narrative thread. Technical hiccups aside, Layers of Fear wraps up the series in a graphically enhanced package that is easily the best way for players both new and old to experience the franchise.

This review was based on a pre-release PC review code provided by the publisher. Layers of Fear (2023) releases on June 15, 2023 for PlayStation 5, Xbox Series X|S, and PC.

Contributing Editor

Larryn is a freelance contributor who creates video game guides and reviews for Shacknews and has more than a decade of experience covering games across various outlets. When she's not gaming, Larryn can often be found watering houseplants, playing D&D, or teaching her cats new tricks.

  • Improved graphics enhance atmosphere
  • New gameplay mechanics are welcome additions
  • Great soundtrack
  • Chapters mode adds to replayability
  • Best value for the whole franchise
  • Multiple technical problems and crashes
  • Voiceovers are sometimes awkward and may not match transcription
From The Chatty
  • reply
    June 15, 2023 9:00 AM

    Larryn Bell posted a new article, Layers of Fear (2023) review: Art is long, life is short

    • reply
      June 15, 2023 9:20 AM

      It’s definitely an interesting exercise in a remaster. I own both games and the puzzles and level design are still fresh enough I don’t feel the need to play through it all again. I also wonder if the particular monster chases might wear thin when you have to do game 1 and game 2 back to back.

      • rms legacy 10 years legacy 20 years mercury super mega
        June 15, 2023 7:20 PM

        I haven't played a dam thing in this series, don't really feel compelled to buy though. Will have to think about it; does have a decent launch discount

    • reply
      June 15, 2023 10:12 AM

      Hmmmm. Milleh-br0, worth a re-bouy?

      • reply
        June 15, 2023 10:22 AM

        I'd only get it for the visuals if they are using nanite & lumen, but I don't think they are using either?

        • reply
          June 15, 2023 10:25 AM

          I dunno what those are but it does use unreal engine 5 which has ray tracing

        • reply
          June 15, 2023 3:16 PM

          The remake uses a new Lumen system, according to the Steam page.

        • reply
          June 15, 2023 3:25 PM

          Eh, for the environments they tend to have baked traditional lighting can be fine.

          You don't necessarily see nanite and lumen compared to a properly done traditional scene, but it's way easier on the artist (in theory).

        • reply
          June 15, 2023 3:59 PM

          They’re using both.

          • reply
            June 15, 2023 4:31 PM

            Interesting! I watched a DF video a a month or 2 ago where they mentioned they were pretty sure neither were being used based on previews I guess they were wrong

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