It is hard to imagine for some of us that it has been twenty years since The Blair Witch Project not only popularized the concept of the “found footage” film genre but also created a tale of psychological horror that managed to spawn a couple of lesser sequels over the years and even a video game trilogy back in the early 2000s. Although fairly popular at the time, and having another movie debut a few years ago, Blair Witch had mostly faded into the past but that changed when Bloober Team made the surprise reveal at E3 that a Blair Witch game was in the works. With a pedigree of horror with various ups and downs through the years, is Bloober Team’s take on Blair Witch one worth trying?
Set two years after the events of The Blair Witch Project, a young boy named Peter has gone missing in the Black Hills Forest. The local sheriff has organized a search party in an effort to find the boy as the woods are quite vast and while many members of the community have stepped forward to help, one of these happens to be Ellis and his canine companion Bullet. While a trained dog may seem like a great help in the search, the sheriff is hesitant to let Ellis join the search but relents after Ellis informs him that he is in tough enough shape to not get in the way.
Of course it doesn’t take long before things begin to go off track as not only is Ellis suffering from PTSD due to his time in the military but thanks to his depression and anxiety caused from losing his job as a police officer his relationship with his ex-wife Jane is also in constant turmoil. The one thing keeping Ellis together is Bullet, a support dog that ends up being useful for not only Ellis’ sanity but also for the player as well. The woods are a lonely place and Blair Witch stays true to the psyhcological horror that the original film focused so heavily on as not only is the forest itself something that quickly becomes an enemy of the mind but Ellis’ issues are only magnified by the strange happenings around him.
In fact, thanks to these unusual happenings players are often left to wonder just how much of what they are seeing is actually real and what is instead a hallucination of Ellis’ mind, if not both at the same time. Wild shifts in location and situation heighten the odd feeling the player should experience in a game such as this but although Blair Witch is unsettling at times, don’t expect to be too frightened by most of what the game has to offer. In fact even the few jump scares that do work their way into the game mostly fail to be effective due to how they are implemented. This leads to a game that is incredibly unsettling thanks to taking place in an ever changing forest filled with horrors that may be real as well as those of the mind, but be prepared for a few sequences to take far too long to play out. At certain points it feels like progress can come to a crawl simply to pad out the experience a bit further and even a few story beats are drawn out far too long, making what feels like a climax end up as a chore.
That being said, while avoiding spoilers, Blair Witch does feature a number of different variants when it comes to its ending and trying to find just how these come about makes the game worth playing through more than once. As stated at the beginning, players will be judged by their actions and while a few things may seem rather obtuse, especially if the player doesn’t properly explore at times, seeing how these variables play out is rather interesting a second time around.
Blair Witch is an entirely first person adventure game that finds Ellis with a few different tools at his disposal all while being accompanied by his faithful dog Bullet. Players will have access to a variety of different items which can be a bit cumbersome to access as they are managed through the bumper buttons and these range from being a cell phone that can make calls, recieve texts, or play a game of Snake, a radio, flashlight, various collectibles that the player can find, and a camcorder. The camcorder and the flashlight get the most play out of the various items, though the phone and radio also come into play at certain points, as the camcorder can be used for night vision and to play various tapes that Ellis finds scattered around the woods. These tapes range from simply showing the player a location to being able to mystically bend time and space as watching these tapes and rewinding them to specific spots in time can do various things such as make an item appear out of thin air, clear debris blocking a pathway, and even open doors.
Combat in Blair Witch is handled primarily through the use of the aforementioned flashlight as most enemies that appear in the game are deathly afraid of the light. Players will need to utilize Bullet’s assistance most of the time as he will bark and growl in an enemies direction, allowing the player to aim the light and banish the creature. Of course enemies who are immune to the light, or appear during times the flashlight doesn’t work, require some stealth sections that work well enough but can also be a bit too tight at times with strange failstates appearing out of nowhere, resulting in death and reloading of a checkpoint.
Alongside the items that Ellis can use he can also provide Bullet with various commands. In fact, one of the best parts of Blair Witch is how amazing Bullet is handled as players can feed him treats, pet him when he does something good, and also work as the primary guide for the game. Despite seemingly like Bullet might be in danger enemies leave the canine alone so players can focus on fighting or avoiding creatures that he points out though outside of combat Bullet can also help track down items in the environment and either bark to point them out or simply carry them back to the player. There is also the option to tell him to stay or stay close, as well as scold him but only a cruel person would punish such a good dog.
As mentioned before, the forest itself is often as much of an enemy as the creatures that reside inside of it as the twisting paths that turn in on themselves can feel like players are simply lost in the woods with only Bullet to potentially lead them in the proper direction. In fact more than a few locations require such aimless wandering while others may simply be hiding a certain item that must be found to progress. This type of padding can be frustrating at times despite fitting into the spooky nature of the game’s world. Alongside simply trying to navigate the world players will also encounter various puzzles that they must solve but for the most part these are rather simple.
What isn’t simple however are the numerous bugs and issues that arise when playing the game. For the most part Bloober Team has managed to craft a unique feeling world but it is also one fraught with issues that range from simply being an annoyance to having to reload a checkpoint to escape. More than once either Ellis or Bullet would end up locked inside the geometry of the area, caught up on a rock or tree that couldn’t be escaped from and the entire second half of the game saw Ellis needing to crouch through every single door as trying to walk through in any other way met with an invisible wall.
Visuals & Audio
The development team has managed to craft a unique feeling and incredibly creepy forest that excels at creating a haunting atmosphere. Various twists and turns as well as the random changes in location blend flawlessly with the world, especially in the latter half of the game where the line between what is real and what is in Ellis’ mind blurs to the point of being non-existent. Character models can be a bit bland looking at times during Ellis’ visions but the designs of the monsters, when actually seen, are decent enough while Bullet is modeled quite well and remains the best aspect of the game here.
The sound design also holds up incredibly well, though the game does warn players that it is best paired with a head-set to experience the true horror and ambiance of exploring terrifying woods with only your dog as a companion. The same cannot be said for the voice work as it works well enough but can feel a bit cheesy at times, especially when certain lines are repeated over and over again.
Blair Witch crafts an interesting narrative that will keep players pushing through an ever more spooky and danger filled forest despite the fact that the pacing can be rather rough at times, especially when dealing with bugs, and actual scares are kept to a minimum. The design of the world itself that sees the line between reality and hallucination blur together works wonders in creating an atmospheric world that is truly great to enjoy, especially when traveling with perhaps the best part of the game, your faithful companion Bullet.