One of my favorite horror series in gaming is Layers of Fear. Since the original’s release back on PC, I’ve always loved its combination of atmospheric environments, chilling soundtrack, and its stories about artists driven mad by their craft. With the release of Layers of Fear 2023, the series compiles remakes of the first two games with all the DLC, and some new content to round out of the package.
With Unreal 5 powering this new coat of paint, I was eager to dive in and experience it all over again. Let’s find out if this new version has enough layers to keep you interested, or if the repetition of playing the games again will drive you mad.
More Than a Remake
Layers of Fear 2023 is a joint effort between the original developer and a new developer who worked on the collection. It includes a full remake of the original title, the second game, and the DLC from the first game. It adds an additional story to the first game from the wife’s perspective, and the story mode also includes a new story about a writer who ties everything together from her place in a lighthouse.
Separate from the story mode, which flows through all of this content, incorporating intermissions where you play as the writer, you can also use a chapter select to play specific content from the games and use a separate save file to experiment and get different endings.
As a Layers of Fear fan, this is perhaps the most amazing package one could hope for. Not only do the games look and play great in Unreal 5, but the added story elements and chapters expand the universe even further, and do a great job of tying the games together better than ever.
Those who didn’t enjoy the games originally probably won’t be swayed by this, but one thing I will say is that some new gameplay elements have been added to spice up the horror. Namely, in the first game there is now a lantern that can be used to banish the ghost of the painter’s wife, who shows up to stalk you at key points.
These sections do devolve into you running around trying to find three of something so you can progress. This tends to be grating because she really keeps up with you, and your lantern requires time to recharge between focused blasts of light.
I much preferred the sections where she was chasing you and you just had to find the way forward. This was more compelling than going in circles as you search for keys, gears, or the like. The second game also incorporated chase scenes in the original and the new version that I liked for similar reasons.
The story of Layers of Fear 2023 benefits greatly from the new content that adds the writer as a new character. Her intermissions do a wonderful job of making you feel like there’s something greater behind the scenes pulling the strings in both the games and the DLCs. Much of the other story elements are delivered by notes you find, which include narration that ranges from solid to a little cheesy sounding.
While many may point fingers and call this game a “walking simulator” I think the chase and combat elements do a great job of keeping you on your toes with very real danger. I also don’t think any game with that moniker has quite nailed the feeling of disorientation that Layers of Fear is known for.
In Layers of Fear 2023, it was great to experience all of those moments again. You’ll often walk into a room, look at something, and then turn to find that the room has shifted while you were looking away. This type of mind-melting psychological horror is constant in the Layers of Fear series, and it’s easily one of my favorite elements of these games.
Combine this with powerful imagery and some seriously haunting developments, and you have a recipe for some very enrapturing horror. Like any good horror game, Layers of Fear 2023 also features multiple endings for both of the main games in the collection. Unlike other games though, the choices that lead to these endings are not obvious or limited to a single chapter.
I love this idea, especially because you can jump around with the chapters mode and keep your story mode saved data, but some of these endings are pretty esoteric in how you get them to trigger. I would have liked perhaps some more context in the game as to which collectibles or optional events have an impact on the ending.
Even so, gameplay is smooth and the atmosphere is as thick as ever in Layers of Fear 2023. As I said earlier in the review, those who enjoyed these games the first time will find a lot to love about this remake, especially how the new content ties everything together.
Unreal 5 is Here, and it is Glorious
For many, the Unreal 5 tech demo was the first time we saw this new version of the popular engine in action. The technology at work here, especially around lighting, is stunning. Layers of Fear 2023 uses Unreal 5 in amazing ways to show the future of horror. Environments are nearly photo-realistic, and playing with the quality preset on PS5 always looked amazing on a 4K screen.
The HDR and image calibration was difficult to get right, many areas were too dark, but the vast majority of the time was a visual feast. Some subtle uses of the DualSense controller for door handles, switches, and levers, also felt good in the adaptive triggers.
I did notice some frame rate drops, but it was never enough to pull me out of the action. All in all, my time with Layers of Fear 2023 was an awesome trip through some of my favorite horror titles in gaming, and the new content added in was a delicious narrative cherry on top. There’s a lot of gameplay and value here, and fans of the series shouldn’t hesitate to dive back in.
Final Score: 9.0/10
Article by – Bradley Ramsey
Insert date – 6/19/2023