It amazes me how in tandem, Bloober Team and Silent Hill have become over the years. They first started to get a bunch of attention of the general public with the release of Layers of Fear, which was the first of many games that were part of the sub-genre; “Gosh, isn’t it sad that we are never getting Silent Hills” and was primarily inspired by PT and that’s it, and that opened the floodgates of the walking sim/horror genre. Flash-forward to 2023, and Bloober Team has released Layers of Fear; their next project is a remake of one of the most important games of the early 2000s, Silent Hill 2, which sadly means that whatever this game was meant to be, has more attention on it because of that. As for myself, after finishing this game, my hype for Silent Hill 2 has gone from “that exists” to “worrying.” Because Layers 23 is at odds with itself, primarily in the department of what exactly this game is supposed to be.
In Layers 2023, you primarily play as a painter who has returned home and tried to finish working on his masterpiece. The obsession with finishing has led him to neglect everyone around him, and the game is just the player taking control of the painter and experiencing the hellish he has created for himself. The overall plot is interesting, even if the majority of the time, it feels like a film student learning about symbolism for the first time; I can make that joke because I’m guilty of using it occasionally. But this comes to my major problem with the scary game; it didn’t scare me once besides for the regularly timed jump scare, and that’s primarily because I was so bored the smashing of a piano key woke me back up. I’ll give the game this, it did promote itself as a graphical next-gen showcase, and it does feel like that. It reminds me a lot of those graphic-enhanced mods you see for PC games, the same game, and gameplay, but now with a better lighting engine. This isn’t just my thoughts on the game; it’s how it was presented in its own marketing.
However, when talking about the graphics, that is what the game is best at. It does feel unsettling at times with the sound design and the atmosphere. The lighting helps a lot with giving off this feeling of dread. Even if it didn’t scare me, I still felt unsettled when exploring the abandoned areas that are contained within the game, which made me realize that if/when someone mods in a VR mod, that will help the horror aspect in a big way. The gameplay, however, is still very walking simulator-like, a mix of clicking on objects and using objects collected in previous rooms in the current room. These types of puzzles rarely happen because the current object that is needed is always located in/near the room you are in, though it’s more balanced in the puzzle design when compared to the first game.
But then that leads me to another issue: this game needs to know if it’s a sequel, reboot, or remake. It tries to juggle all three in the hope that at least one will work out, and in the end, none of them do. Layers 2023 is a retelling of the first game mixed with elements of the second game, stitched with about an hour’s worth of new content that wasn’t present in either game. By the time I worked out the explanation chart, the game was over in about six hours, which I’m glad. It finds that nice middle area between not being too short and not being too long, even though when I reached the ending, all the plot details started to blend together.
In the end, Layers 2023 left me somewhat mellowed, which is funny in a game about mental torture. The gameplay felt stale to me, and again, it needs help in what it truly wants to be. But forces outside the control of the game may have affected my overall mood on the game. Because when you put in perspective that after this, the development team is going to work on the Silent Hill 2 remake, and when that thought enters your mindset when you know precisely why Silent Hill 2 is held to a high level that few games ever reach, you start to worry it might become very middle of the road. As for where this ranks in the catalog of Bloober Team’s horror games, it is miles better than their Blair Witch game, but still not as good as Observer. Then when you compare those to other games of similar nature, they all fall into the mediocrity pile that stays in the spotlight for a few weeks and then pops up once they have a reasonable sale price attached to them, and some streamer picks it up for a session.
Score: 5 out of 10
Reviewed on PlayStation 5