2016 psychological horror game Layers of Fear is, in developers Anshar Studios and Bloober Team’s words, getting not quite a remake, but a “reimagining”—”a unified vision of horror” chaining together the stories of Layers of Fear, sequel Layers of Fear 2, all pre-existing DLCs and a new one, called “The Final Note.” A gameplay trailer demonstrates some technological upgrades, too, including ray-tracing capabilities and 4K resolution.
The original Layers of Fear places players in the mind of an artist wobbling on the edge of insanity, making them wander, in first-person, through a shifting studio filled with sudden scares. It’s “dizzying,” and it “messes with your head,” Kotaku Editor-in-Chief Patricia Hernandez wrote in a 2015 Steam Early Access review.
2019 follow-up Layers of Fear 2 provides a similar hallucinatory experience, but with an actor protagonist on a boat, instead. Forthcoming DLC “The Final Note” recasts the first game’s story from the perspective of a writer, and aims to tie “each entry in the series together.”
At a hands-off preview earlier this week, Anshar Studios creative director Damian Kocurek told me that the DLC has been “years, years in the making,” and he hopes the reimagining it’s a part of (due in June 2023) will help fans understand the “connection” that exists across the entire series.
“There was always bigger and deeper mythology in the Layers of Fear [games],” he said. “It was always kind of under the surface, so we wanted to bring it up more and offer a more connected, bigger setting than it was before.”
The demo they ran through shows the writer protagonist wandering through a creaking lighthouse, already beginning to be tormented by black rats running around paintings that morph into terrifying faces. Later, a fire seems to consume an attic. Beyond it, ink blob monsters threaten to leap out. But a lit lantern—one of several core gameplay changes to come—keeps them at bay, frying them in its glow.
Compared to the visuals of the first game, which I’d place, for the most part, somewhere between grayscale and sepia, the demo gave the impression of a more high-contrast, vibrant game. It has darker darks, woozy smoke clouds, and monsters punctuated by shocking red fire. The sound design, updated by Arek Reikowski—who will also be working on Bloober’s Silent Hill 2 remake—is also rewardingly crisp. Even through my laptop speakers, the walkthrough’s various whispers and squelches land with raw meaty wetness. Gross, yes, but all in the name of enhancing the horror experience.
I’m interested to see Layers of Fear’s story similarly enhanced by this reimagining’s intertwined plotlines. I do find the original game skin-crawly, but more in a forgettable, icky creepypasta way than the searing fear I usually hope for in psychological horror. It’s looking good so far, though. Ghosts seem to go well with ray tracing.