The structure of the ship groans as it clambers wave-over-wave in the middle of nowhere. The corridors twist as I run towards the door ahead, but when I go through, I’m back in that same corridor again. And there’s a monster that wants to kill me. That’s basically how Layers of Fear 2 works, and it brings with it, Bloober Teams fantastic way of building suspense. But for accessibility, how does the game hold up in this horrific setting?
Layers of Fear 2 has been available on PC since 2019 but is now heading to the Nintendo Switch — so already, there’s that concern of small text and interfaces on a small handheld screen. But the game is actually incredibly simple in its design, but before I get into this some more, it’s worth noting that the game features not only flickering lights in many areas, but its whole theme is surrounding classic movies. So there are moments in which your environments become black and white to mimic the effect of projector films.
For me, while playing on TV was okay with some gamma adjustments in the settings menu, when it came down to playing handheld —my preferred way of playing— it was near impossible to see the environment unless I was sat in darkness. I’d find myself squinting at the screen, trying to not focus on my reflection of my squished up face, but it was all I could honestly see. A lot of the time, the darkness felt unaffected by the gamma and instead made the brighter areas far too intense.
Layers of Fear 2 is an incredibly linear, narrative-driven game so don’t expect to be branching off into different areas of the ship as if it was an open world. The game wants you to go certain ways and you can’t overcome that. As such, there are jump scares that are designed to…well, make you jump. This is usually achieved mostly through visuals such as seeing a door slam, seeing a pot fall over, or seeing a quick flicker of the monster standing down a hallway because it chases you.
There are no closed captions or visual indicators to direct your attention to key sounds, so when something does happen, such as the examples described above, instead of being drawn to the narrative, I’m unaware and continue to wander around.
While there may not be any captions, there are subtitles for dialogue. The most you can do with customising them is increasing their size, and at their maximum, they’re not too bad in size — especially when in handheld mode. Frustratingly, there’s no background box behind them, which means scenes with bright white projector screens, or overly bright black and white levels will lose the text in the brightness.
Considering this is a game that is incredibly in-depth with its story, this makes following along a hindrance at times. And while the majority of the game is set in dark areas, there’s a lingering dread of “This next room could be bright again” which is a feeling that only increases as the game goes on and becomes more stylistic and intense.
When you wander the rooms of the ship, you’ll come across notes with information that ties to the backstory, and on occasion, will include clues. Most of the time I found the handwritten notes to be incredibly hard to read and terrible for accessibility, but there is an option to overlay a text version of the note which was much nicer.
Items have a shimmer to them when they can be interacted with, picked up, or added to your inventory. What’s interesting about this, is there’s no actual inventory to rummage through. Instead, tiny and barely legible icons can be seen in the bottom right for a small amount of time when you press up on the d-pad.
This simplicity means everything you pick up will be automatically used when needed with no need to organise an inventory or combine items as you do in Resident Evil titles. As an example. I’ll pick a set of keys up, it’ll go into my inventory, then when I find a locked door, it’ll automatically unlock that door with those keys when I interact with the handle.
For text and images that are present within the world itself such as pictures, or signs, I was able to use a zoom function built into Layers of Fear 2 which came in handy for observing objects for puzzles or zooming in on things for the hell of it. And speaking of puzzles, the game seems to try and keep everything as close as possible, meaning there’s no running to different rooms that much because everything is tied to one area. However, what you’re tasked with are not all that obvious to solve.
For example, there was a safe in a room where you have to enter a code using a dial. After spending ages wandering the room looking for a clue and resorting to an online guide, it turns out I’d gone past the code on a note because the black and white level made the note blend too much into the grey. I’d even spent the time to count the damn coins on the floor thinking that was the clue.
Later on, I also came across a clock puzzle that requires doing maths, which is not my strong subject. Annoyingly, there is no way to get hints or skip any puzzles, and it’s always assumed that you know what you’re meant to do, which for some players may not be the case.
Now, let’s talk about that monster and safe mode. There’s a monster throughout Layers of Fear 2 that will chase after you in certain areas and when close enough will activate a cutscene where you basically die and respawn back at a checkpoint. At the start of the game, I was offered the choice of starting in safe mode or not. I chose not to in order to get a feel for the game.
Later on, I noticed that the option is still listed in the settings menu as a toggle. I toggled safe mode on, but for some reason, it wasn’t working. Every time I’d leave the settings menu, the monster would continue to chase and kill me, and by going back into the settings menu, I realised that it was refusing to apply safe mode. With safe mode on, the monster is supposed to act scary but without chasing or killing you.
It was during these several deaths in a row I started to notice just how intense the vibrations from the Joy-Cons are when the monster starts screeching, or even when a door slams really close by. And if you check out our Layers of Fear 2 Accessibility — Menu Deep Dive you’ll see that the vibrations can be adjusted with a slider to suit your level of AAAAAAAAH!
So, for visual cues, Layers of Fear 2 prides itself on being a minimalistic and cinematic experience, which isn’t great for accessibility. It also does mean there’s a strong lack of on-screen indicators for sounds as mentioned earlier.
For interactive objects, items will shine, also as I mentioned earlier, but for things you can actually grab and move, you’ll see a hand icon that will appear over drawers, door handles, and anything you can pick up and look at. I quite like the hand icon because it’s always there when you’re within the radius and it moves with the objects interactive point. In fact, it was thanks to this hand icon I was even able to get past the below room where grey 3D objects blended into the grey room.
Layers of Fear 2 feels like it would be better in accessibility for me if I was more aware of the off-screen audio cues and if allowed me to experience some assistance with puzzles. But otherwise, I felt like it did a good job in guiding me through incredibly linear levels when it was calmer, but when being chased, the lack of understanding where to go and struggling to see routes in the darkness meant I was repeating the same mistakes over and over.
There are also some levels in which I took damage from world events, such as scorching fire or ouchie steam, and the screen goes darker, with a faint red vignette with no directional indication. It was good it was included, but feels incredibly underused to the point it felt forgettable.
My thoughts on the Layers of Fear 2 accessibility is that it’s not brilliant if you’re hoping to fully understand your environment, let alone see it. The reliability of seeing jump scares without being able to hear most of them and just feeling a vibration instead took aware the fear factor for me, and I wasn’t a huge fan of the black and white areas. But Bloober Team does offer a cinematic experience if that’s what you’re after.
A review copy of Layers of Fear 2 was provided by the developer/publisher.