Review | Layers of Fear (2023)

Originally published at: Review | Layers of Fear (2023) - XboxEra

Layers of Fear is a reimagining of the original 2016 release and its sequel. Featuring expanded storylines, and the first game’s DLC it’s the first full Unreal Engine 5 game that I have played. It looks fantastic and plays a hell of a lot like the originals. There was some serious jank in my pre-release build, alongside some genuinely creepy scares. Has it earned its existence? Let’s dig in deep (though spoiler free of course).

A Remake/Reimaging

Layers of Fear (2023) contains the first game, its two DLCs, and the sequel.  In the first title you play as “The Painter”. A distraught drunk who has thrown his life and family to the side in his pursuit of perfecting his craft.  You spend your time walking through your house as your mind deteriorates.  The main source of scares is psychological though plenty of jump scares are used with decent effect. The Painter’s story took me roughly 4 hours to complete with each of its DLCs clocking in just around an hour.  Layers of Fear 2 follows the Actor, whose story is a bit longer at 5 hours to complete.  The biggest change here is the addition of the Writer.

You start the game as a woman living alone in a Lighthouse, sent there by your agency to finish your next book.  Much like the Painter and Actor, you are beset by dark forces, luring you in various ways to help hone your craft. This is the biggest addition to the game, outside of its shift to Unreal Engine 5 which we’ll touch on in the graphics section.  The writer has her own issues with family and work, and her interludes added context to what previously felt like two barely connected games.  I hadn’t played the titles until now and looking up how they went originally I think Bloober Team has done a great job of trying to tie their “layers-verse” together.

You can choose to jump into any of the five character’s stories in the main menu.  I chose to go in order of release, with the first game’s two DLCs giving some additional context to its story that helped flesh each of the characters out significantly. I don’t believe anything has been changed in those games outside of the full graphical overhaul each received.  The original voice acting, music, and sound effects all seem to be reused. Those graphics, running on Unreal Engine 5 though are a massive improvement.

UE5 Exists

Layers of Fear overhauls all the graphics in each release. There are two display modes on offer a Raytracing-enabled Quality Mode that is stuck at 30 fps and a 60-fps targeted Performance Mode. As this isn’t a twitch shooter, I ended up sticking with the Quality Mode the entire time as the texture and lighting quality were greatly improved over performance.

I’m not sure how much moving to Unreal Engine 5 helped or which exact version they’re using. Graphically the game looks good to occasionally great. The house and boat locations are in the upper-AA tier, while particle effects and fire are convincing. Nothing here looks “next-gen” as much as high PC settings for a recent game. God rays through windows have an odd shimmering to them in quality that is greatly exacerbated in performance mode. If this was Bloober looking to update their tools and learn UE5 it has been a success. The game looks nice and runs well in both modes.

Controls, Story, Sound, and Bugs

Layers of Fear is a very dark game, and to combat that you get a lantern that works on an overheat system.  Using the left trigger will hold up your lantern and pressing the right trigger will activate it to dispel “things” you’ll encounter.  Clicking in the left stick toggles run, which is also on the right bumper. In Layers of Fear 2, your character knows how to crouch by pressing Y, unlike the Painter. 

The game is mostly a walking and opening simulator.  The main gameplay loops are walking around areas and trying to find the way to get to the next.  That can be finding a key, answering a phone, looking at a piece of paper, etc.  You will mostly be grabbing things with the right trigger and then using the right stick to manipulate them.  The only “combat” is when using the lamp in the first game.  The sequel does away with it and instead focuses on the story with moderate success. I found myself more intrigued by the overall narrative in 2 and greatly appreciated not having the forced “combat” sections of the original.

The music throughout is seldom used but well done.  The jump scare stings and “you’re in danger” music get repetitive by the end of the first game, but this is less of an issue in the DLCs and sequel.  The voice acting is mostly mediocre and as far as I can tell unchanged.  The Writer has been interspersed throughout the original games and the actress does well to convey the constantly changing emotions of her character.

The majority of bugs that I encountered in my pre-release build were audio related.  A majority of the sound effects during The Writer’s segments failed to play.  Slamming a phone down or throwing a painting was completely silent, making me wonder if my headset had turned off.  A few graphical bugs tied to the game’s use of physics in some scary segments gave me a bit of a headache.  Massive screen shake happened a few times when I interacted with an object from too far away or to the side. Other than that it was a smooth experience with no crashes or save issues.

Wrapping Things Up

Layers of Fear (2023) is a solid compilation of two decent horror titles.  It is a massive graphical upgrade that uses a new narrative to tie them together in a satisfying way.  Releasing at $30 MSRP if you haven’t played the games before and love to get creeped out then this one is well worth checking out.


Thanks, the first Layers of Fear has a special place for me, I bought it as one of the first early preview games Xbox offered played it ALOT during their early preview process, then when it went final my young son at the time watched me play it for hours until I beat that game and then watched me play the DLC and he became a huge horror fan due to that game and watching me play it. I only played a little of the second game maybe a few hours before I got sidetracked.

My son is a teen now but this compilation will be great to reminisce to for the first game and finish the second game and the new Writers Chapter.

Glad to have this and on Unreal 5 to boot. It’s downloading now on my console and I’ll try it out tonight.


Jesus, I had no idea this was coming out so soon already.

Didn’t think much of the first one myself.

Me either. Liking the fact that as its pretty much all remakes they have chosen a low price point nudged me to pick it up even though I own all the OGs.

On sale at the moment as well so available for a great price.

When remakes catches up with the backlog… I have these games in the backlog but never got around to playing them.

How much better is the experience? Worth re-buying or am I fine with the old ones?

I bought it, it was only $20

Im in the same boat, own the originals, haven’t ever got around to playing them.

Played several hours now and this is great. It brings a narrative to the first 2 games by wrapping it with an external story.

Really well done so far. The only downside is HDR is broke the picture is washed out. It lets you turn it off in game so do that. Otherwise it looks and runs great in quality mode.

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I turned off HDR adjusted the brightness and then turned it back on. Seemed to work for me unless I imagined a difference :slight_smile: .

I’ll directly try that but it seems the setting does not carry over for me when turning on HDR the picture is still really washed out.

Yea had another look and it looks like I did imagine a difference. doesn’t strike me as a particularly good use of HDR though so not much loss switching it off if that’s your preference.

Final twist? So I had already calibrated HDR on my Series X but had a notification in settings when I just turned on to calibrate HDR. Did it again and the HDR looks much better again. So maybe give that a try.

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They just need to add some HDR specific brightness options to let us tweak HDR

Well I guess but it’s Bloober so they won’t :slight_smile: .

One more thing I did think of was to check how you’ve got tone mapping set up on your TV to make sure you are not tone mapping twice which would exacerbate the problem.

If the TV supports it should be set to HGiG, if not turned off (and then rerun the HDR calibration app on the console).

Well every other piece of media looks fine in HDR so this is definitely a game issue, I’ll just play with HDR off until they fix it. I’m glad they at least put the option in the game to turn off HDR.