The atmosphere sticks like a sweet, damp odour. As the door swings shut behind you – instantly snuffing out the meagre light – something shifts in the darkness. You’re just hearing things, you admonish yourself – it’s only the drip of a pipe or the creak of a floorboard; you’re on edge and have been for ages – but then it happens again and this time, there’s no mistake. The silence is a knowing silence, now; a watchful one. Something knows you’re there, and it’s waiting for you to move first.
Layers of Fear 2 is never better than when it ramps up this cloying, almost paralysing atmosphere, leading you through claustrophobic corridors and dank, damp interiors where once fine furnishings lie in sodden, mouldering heaps. While first-class tables have been set for dinner, decanters left to breathe and napkins fanned in anticipation, the dining hall is empty – everywhere across the Icarus Transatlantic is empty. The further you explore, the more you’ll notice its once majestic suites are now crumbling and decaying, leaving you with just scraps of notes and musty memories to piece together the unsettling puzzle of double-u-tee-eff happened here.
These opening hours are my favourite. The disquieting – and deliberate – similarities to Titanic are strongest there, and the low-key sleight-of-hand horror at its most effective. Later, when the game pulls you elsewhere and even the jumpiest of players – a group in which I include myself – will become oh-so-acclimatised to the scripted scares, you’ll feel the weight of repetition and the poor pacing pull fretfully at the edges of your enjoyment. Here, though, in the beginning, your desire to know more will trump your hesitation, tempting you onwards through the reinforced steel archways. You jump as the room trills with the metallic thump of the door swinging shut behind you, panicking as you realise the room has quietly shifted when you looked away, doors dissolving into thin air, trapping you in a dark, tight space with no obvious means of escape. Layers of Fears 2 hasn’t taught you to be cynical just yet.