Layers of Fear 2: PC, 9/10
Much of the fear in horror games comes from the sensation of dread and oppressiveness that usually pervades every moment of gameplay. Often, the balance between the fear and virtually every other aspect of the game is tipped so far towards in the former's favour that players may burn out quickly, or simply not have the mettle to reach the conclusion. Layers of Fear 2 suffers no such shortcoming, with the tightrope act between story and spectacle refined to an exceptional degree.
Taking many a cue from classic film, Layers of Fear 2 is a deeply terrifying but nevertheless hauntingly beautiful journey through the decaying mind of an artist and the various twisted machinations wraught on the environment around you. While this is a well trodden trope, seldom has it been so deftly pulled off as in this instance, where the masterful writing elevates it to that intangible realm of instant-classics that truly feel like 'more' than your standard gaming experience.
Layers of Fear 2 casts you in the role of an actor aboard an ocean liner. Guiding you through the ever-shifting environment is the disembodied voice of your movie's director, who's sanity and motives are just as mutable as the deceitful corridors you roam.
Just as much an exhibition of incredible talent as the exploits by Layers of Fear 2's writers, the environment design is often magical and never predictable. The incredibly detailed ship acts somewhat as a central hub and the diverse array of other locations you can visit from it keeps it fresh on every return.
However, the true star of the environmental show is hidden behind the scenes. The way the world constantly shifts around you is as inspired as it is eerie. Doorways can disappear as soon as you take a second look at them, manifesting as corridor or an entrance to an entirely new environment - perhaps one containing floating skyscrapers or gardens crawling with vines and abstract horrors. You will truly never know what to expect at any moment and that's not in a cheap jump-scare kind of way. The transformations and manipulations are so intricately woven into the game that you will almost never notice the trigger or change until after-the-fact.
For a game only 10 hours long, it wouldn't be that difficult to wax lyrical about it for perhaps longer than its total runtime. Layers of Fear 2 is just that - intricate layers of gameplay permeated by a constant state of fear. Though never paralysing, this is a truly frightening game but one that rewards in other areas, too.