Bloober Is Almost Worthy Of Silent Hill

Bloober Is Almost Worthy Of Silent Hill

There’s a lot to admire about Layers of Fear, Polish studio Bloober Team’s new reimagining of its (relatively) excellent surrealist, psychological adventure horror series.

Developed alongside Anshar Studios, which previously helped Bloober expand its sci-fi horror watcher in 2020, this new version of Layers of Fear composes the original 2016 game, its DLC, Layers of Fear 2, a new DLC and a new story intended to fill in the gaps in a beautifully complex decaying rose. But while the series has never looked better, Layers of Fear was made with Unreal Engine 5– its narrative is contrived, sometimes choking on its own ambitious complexities.

My disappointment is poetic. Most of the characters the game lets you choose from – The Painter, his wife The Musician, The Actor, and The Writer, who is introduced to the series for the first time in this game – suffer from the same ailment: getting run over by unattainable aspirations. Through the divided chapters of Layers of Fear, I play each of them in first person and piece together their harrowing pasts through notes and their own commentary.

Letters with names crossed out, sentimental found objects like a cracked conch shell, and a barrage of cryptic voiceovers tell me the cast of Layers of Fear have already achieved success in the art, and so they’re determined to keep going. striving, however unreasonable their goals, begin to be felt in the game’s transforming houses. Only dull things can hold them back, earthly things, like the brown liquor The Artist depends on, or damaged skin painfully stretched over the burnt fingers of the Musician.

But these are temporary setbacks – the splendor of their artistry and genius cannot be contained by something as small and imperfect as a body, the characters suggest. So they turn to the rat queenthe series villain officially introduced in 2019’s Layers of Fear 2, with her long teeth and black marble eyes, and she forces them on her supernatural path to greatness.

Screenshot: Bloober Team / Kotaku

Layers of Fear is my favorite walking simulator

With the emphasis on discovery and room-by-room exploration, there isn’t much typical “gameplay” in Layers of Fear, so I spend the majority of my time digesting this information. The series has often been called, somewhat mockingly, a “scary walking simulator,” and that’s what I spend over 10 hours doing – walking and, at times, screaming at sudden sounds, like dissonant, resonant piano chords.

There are no options to do much more. In addition to walking, I can run – or, more accurately, walk with more DualSense feedback – and pick up objects by pressing the right trigger. I can zoom in on the secret codes and puzzle solutions since they’ve all been changed from their original iterations, and in the Layers of Fear 2 section I can crouch in the vents.

The Layers of Fear Rat Queen hovers above a boy seated on a stage.

Screenshot: Bloober Team / Kotaku

The most significant gameplay adjustment between this Layers of Fear and previous titles is the introduction of a portable light source. It’s not particularly shocking, but it does break the show’s tradition of passivity, as the lights aren’t just practical, they’re violent. Pressing both triggers causes my beam to become incendiary and I use it to create a new type of puzzle – it appears as a blur and obscures exits and key elements – as well as approaching enemies. For The Artist, who shunned electricity in his lavish 1920s home, that means pointing a glowing gas lantern at visions of my dead wife, who may or may not have deserved it, but other characters can use flashlights to illuminate the rot around them.

Anyway, I don’t mind walking. The game’s level and puzzle designs are completely unpredictable. They move when I’m not looking, and I get a nervous thrill of not knowing what will happen if I turn around. Will I find a filmed photo? A cut finger? Am I about to find myself trapped in a looping hallway, or a locked closet, or a bedroom with no windows, no keys, and no air to breathe?

That’s what makes Layers of Fear scary, and therefore entertaining. With its rebuilt graphics, the game morphs as convincingly as a terrified chameleon. If I look behind this empty picture frame, a door will appear. If I start playing this roll of film, a big white moon will descend and delight me. It’s frightening to tread purposefully into uncertainty, and Layers of Fear taps into that, sending an ocean wave of unease through me.

But, oh, my God, the story.

Layers of fear

Quote on the back of the box

“For sale: DVD Mulholland Drive, never played”


Impressive level design, puzzles and graphics

Did not like

Mundane history, edgelord opinions on art


Bloober Team, Anshar Studios

Type of game

Twisting psychological horror, with a focus on story and exploration


PS5, Xbox Series X/S, PC, Mac

Release date

June 15, 2023

Layers of convoluted traditions

That’s what makes the game both annoying and appealing: if Layers of Fear were a person, they’d be living their whole life upside down. He wants, somewhere in his moving staircases and endless basements, to discover the psychology behind great art.

Since this is a horror game we’re talking about, his take on this psychology is unbearable. I quickly realize that the environments I find myself in are physical manifestations of the artists’ looping thoughts and cobwebbing instincts, tied together with metal chains and wet candle wax. A creative mind is an uncomfortable and unfulfilling place, the game tells me, and really relies on metaphor.

Layers of Fear regularly references legendary creative works like The Picture of Dorian Gray, Faust, The Shining, etc., and I’m struck by how important the art is; “Great art comes at a high cost,” says one note, “To create is to achieve chaos,” reads a voiceover. “Chaos is darkness. Hot. Soft. Tingling. He figured it out in the end. Are you going?”

Uh, not really, TBH.

Drawing on his influences, the demon of Layers of Fear is the Rat Queen, who features more prominently in the added content from the writer and musician. But unlike Dorian Gray or Faust, in which men knowingly give up their souls in exchange for sex and knowledge, the characters in Layers of Fear are traumatized people whom the Rat Queen forces to pursue unattainable perfection. Accordingly, Layers of Fear is not a cautionary tale about selfishness.

I don’t really know what it is. He points out the things he wants me to feel without letting me feel them. The most egregious instance of this happening is in The Musician’s DLC, where found journal entries describe his home as a “jail.” Finally, I put a dead songbird back in its cage. Yeah I understand.

While something like Faust satirizes the tortured artist, conveying that creative people aren’t necessarily special people, that they can be as bad as anyone else, Layers of Fear seems to say that art is uncontrollable. It’s a magical, hungry force, and if a woman, sister, or daughter is caught and bloodied in its insatiable mouth, then, well. So be it.

I find that difficult to accept. I also think it’s detrimental to contextualize art as something dangerous and wild, even though Layers of Fear frames it reverently. Art is not the boogeyman. That’s not the problem – people usually are. Blaming a monster, like the Rat Queen, seems too easy to me. This is a narrative issue I’ve had with Layers of Fear since the beginning, and new stories from writers and musicians have unfortunately snowballed.

Still, I’m impressed with Bloober’s transformation of his series into a compact nightmare with white rats. The game is a show of force, despite fan reservations for the studio next remake of Silent Hill 2, and I admire a game that cares about art as deeply as its characters. I only wish it wasn’t so boring about it.


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