The Nintendo Switch is a surprisingly versatile console, and it has been home to games that only a few years ago seem like they’d never be on a handheld system. The system’s popularity has essentially opened the floodgates to third party developers taking popular games and porting them to the Nintendo Switch—and that’s something I can get behind. As a result of this, the Switch has a large catalog of horror games with Layers of Fear 2 now adding itself to the Switch’s burgeoning rosters.
Layers of Fear 2 is a first person psychological horror adventure game. I didn’t play it when it originally released back in 2018, though I’ve always been meaning to get around to it. Its Nintendo Switch release seemed like the perfect chance to check out this acclaimed dark thriller. You play as an actor who wakes up on a ship that also has the characteristics of a set. I don’t mean the ship itself is a set; rather, it looks like the ship houses a film production. You have no choice but to explore as you’re goaded on by an unknown entity known as the director, voiced by horror staple Tony Todd. There really isn’t too much setup as you’re immediately thrown into the often surreal horror that is Layers of Fear 2.
I appreciate a good psychological horror romp. Mechanically, Layers of Fear 2 is pretty baseline for a game in its genre: you walk a mostly linear path, solving puzzles to advance and avoiding monsters you can’t fight. There are clues scattered about the environment to give you information about your past as you experience whatever new horrific scene or setting. Most obstacles will require some sort of puzzle solving—usually by finding a clue in the environment. The puzzles themselves are pretty simple, and I found myself most often stumped by lack of information than being held up by the puzzle itself. I would much prefer to be stumped by puzzles with clever mechanics, but Layers of Fear 2 is most often difficult because there aren’t enough clues to direct you to the solution. That’s not really a big deal if the story itself is good, and the scares are plentiful—unfortunately, that isn’t the case for Layers of Fear 2.
One of the problems with these types of horror games is the tendency for them to feel like a haunted house, and Layers of Fear 2 is one of the worst at this. Horror is the most scary when it’s juxtaposed with non-horror. Layers of Fear 2 throws you into the surreal, psychologically tortured deep end right at the beginning, and never lets up. It’s just four to five hours of non-Euclidian corridors that empty out into scenes that would look at home at your town’s annual haunted house. While the scenes and environments are graphically compelling, even on the Nintendo Switch, the nautical-meets-theatre presentation gets a little same-y after a while. This wouldn’t be bad if the story was compelling, but unfortunately, it’s a jumbled mess.
Layers of Fear 2 has an intentionally obfuscated story, as the mystery is part of what drives you forward. As you explore rooms, you can come across objects that trigger voice overs which reveal just a little bit more of the narrative. These objects can be missed, however, and it’s easy to play through much of Layers of Fear 2 without being clued into what’s going on beyond the enigmatic and sinister heckling of The Director.
Technically, Layers of Fear 2 is a decent port. There is a good balance between visuals and performance, and you can choose to either leave the game locked at 30 frames per second or set it to a variable frame rate. I initially set it to variable, but found that the game felt smoother when the frames were consistent. This seemed true for undocked mode as well, and even with the smaller screen, Layers of Fear 2 perfectly playable. I did get borderline motion sick with the field of view being so low, and no option to increase it—but that was only in docked mode playing in front of a big screen TV.
Layers of Fear 2 is a good fit for the Nintendo Switch. I’ll always be surprised what that little console can handle. While it’s definitely not on par with the fidelity on other platforms, Layers of Fear 2 ends up looking decent even with the graphics turned down. Unfortunately, I wasn’t that big a fan of its story, and felt like the overall experience lacked in meaningful scares, even with Tony Todd’s growling voice goading me.
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