Blair Witch is one of the most successful independently developed movies of its era, and for some, the birthplace of found-footage horror. There’s rarely a better premise for a horror experience and with the critically acclaimed Layers of Fear behind them, as developers Bloober Team has everything they need to make another huge horror hit.
Taking on a franchise that hit its peak in the late 90s may feel a little strange to some, but the 1999 release of the The Blair Witch Project movie quickly became a cult classic, one still discussed when throwing in names for the best found-footage horror movies of today. It did spew a sequel and the more recent release of Blair Witch…but we don’t talk about those.
Blair Witch Review
Blair Witch takes place in 1999, in the forest of the Black Hills in Burkittsville, Maryland. The events of the game take place two years after the events of the original movie, following another disappearance of a young child in the area. Nine year old Peter Shannon has gone missing near the forest, prompting a large-scale search from local authorities. You take on the role of Ellis, a former soldier and police officer coming to join the search, traveling with his trusted canine companion Bullet.
In true horror movie fashion, Blair Witch warms and welcomes you with its initial visuals. A beautiful, brightly lit forest teeming with character and charm, that doesn’t last all that long. Before you know it, you’re running from supernatural forces, battling with inner demons, and fighting to survive in an environment where physics, logic, and time no longer seem to matter.
Something I was not expecting with Blair Witch was the depth of the main character. Donning the Blair Witch name, I expected much of the game to be about the lore and hideous stories surrounding the infamous legend. While some of that is true, the real stars of this adventure are Ellis and Bullet.
A quick word on Bullet, Ellis’s canine friend. I had two problems regarding Bullet’s pathing throughout the entire game. However, outside of that, he’s a fantastic storytelling tool. You’re never bogged down trying to protect him and there’s no frustrating escort mechanic; Bullet can look after himself. He’s also completely vital for your survival, so keep him close, and be prepared to freak out like crazy if he runs off.
Throughout the game, Ellis is fighting on several fronts. His desire to find the lost child, fueled by a live fire incident during his time as a police officer, is quickly overshadowed by a far more realistic threat: his battle with PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder). As the game progresses you’re introduced to Ellis’ difficult past, a tragic event as a member of the armed forces combined with his issues as a member of law enforcement are often meant to take a back seat to the supernatural terrors of the Blair Witch. Honestly, they are far more terrifying than anything supernatural.
I felt as though I was playing two horror stories spliced into one. Ellis’s personality, his issues, and his personal battles were far more intriguing and at times far more terrifying than anything a spooky witch in a house could conjure. It’s difficult to feel invested in the entire process, because Ellis’ inner battles just felt far more believable, I grew increasingly less interested in the supernatural side of the game as it went on.
The Blair Witch element felt out of place; it felt tacked on to something that was already worthy of being the focus of the game itself. I loved the original movie because, well, not much happened. The vast majority of the film was a group of teenagers in the woods getting lost. Things sure got crazy towards the end, but it was the fear of the unknown, the fear of what was coming, that made me love the original movie.
One particular moment comes to mind. Ellis had just witnessed a murder, was previously attacked by supernatural forces in the middle of the woods, and seemingly teleported to another location and time traveled using a truck. After these events, I decided to ring Jess using Ellis’s in-game phone, and instead of explaining any of these otherwise insanely rare events, he apologized for being a dick the day before. Then there was this other time, after a real and physically tangible threat is introduced into the narrative, Ellis gets a gun and just tosses it away. Smart Ellis, real smart.
Blair Witch doesn’t have that same approach to telling the narrative of the horror aspect of the game. There are enemies, supernatural like creatures that stalk the woods. They don’t appear often, only featuring in a small number of scripted scenes and never attacking at random. Fighting is as simple as holding your ground, waiting for Bullet to give you a hint, and then shining your torch in that direction. While I can’t say I enjoyed these aspects of the game, you’ll be sitting on the edge-of-your-seat, rapidly turning your torch hoping not to get caught. In that aspect of things, Blair Witch nails the fear aspect brilliantly.
It’s difficult to discuss my more serious issues with the game without diving into the deeper segments of the story. It’s a brief experience, one you’ll probably finish in a scant four to five hours. Even with such a small time investment, the ending couldn’t have been much worse. There are apparently “decisions” that influence the outcome of the game, but they are not actually decisions and you don’t get any indication on what events and interactions influence this setting. I’ll say this: I was happy with the discovery and conclusion of Ellis’s problems surrounding PTSD, but I was incredibly disappointed with the curtain call on the Blair Witch side of things.
If there’s one single element that Blair Witch executes in true horror fashion, it’s the audio. The first 20-30 minutes of the game were fantastic. Small tidbits of information about the original movie, the eerie sound effects of the snapping twigs and falling stones – these effects were either ripped directly from the movie or done to near perfect execution from scratch. I lost count of the times I had to remove my headset to see if the distant sound of crying children was in the game or outside my front door (no logic to checking that), but that’s the level of quality the sound provides. You’re never quite sure.
While I can’t avoid my disappointment at the Blair Witch elements of the game, as a horror title, Blair Witch is a solid entry. It doesn’t rely on cheap jump scares or horror movie tropes, instead using lighting, audio, and great visuals to really immerse you in your environment – making even the snap of a branch potentially terrifying.
Technically, the game is solid. Some minor framerate problems on a couple of occasions, but nothing that hinders progress or enjoyment. I did struggle with some of the lighting. Often the different scales of lighting feel like they are pulsating, throbbing away at the edge of the screen like some kind of lingering headache. One part of the screen will be dark, then suddenly lights up, with no actual light or physical reason. Initially, it’s easy to overlook, but by the end of the game I couldn’t stop seeing it.
The visuals of the experience are fantastic…when the lighting works. Playing on maximum settings, I couldn’t quite reach the fidelity of the screenshot quality on Steam, but it still looked great. You can judge for yourself with the two comparison shots below.
Blair Witch is a great entry into the genre. Fans of horror games, with a heavy focus on narrative and walking, will find plenty of scares and edge-of-your-seat moments. However, those looking to dive deeper into the narrative of Blair Witch may come away a little disappointed.
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