Available on PC, Xbox One and PS4
Developed and Published by Bloober Team
When a videogame announcement was made earlier this year that a BLAIR WITCH game was releasing, I couldn’t contain my excitement. We’d already had one in the past but whenever new games pop up that are based on movies, it’s right to be wary. However, from the trailer and gameplay teasers came out, it looked exactly what one could hope from it.
In the game, you play Ellis, a former policeman with a mysterious history but has decided to put the past behind him and do what he can to help the local sheriff find a lost little boy called Peter who went missing in the Black Hills Forest. Accompanying you is your faithful German Shepherd, Bullet, as you must wander around the woods looking for clues.
The game can be described as a first person mystery, exploration game with a few puzzle elements laced with psychological horror. Others have described it as a walking simulator and they wouldn’t really be wrong in that assessment either. The first half of the game is pretty tense as you roam the woods, finding clues with the help of Bullet, who you can instruct to seek for clues from an item’s scent as well as generally find which direction you should head in. Bullet can also find items for you and get items that may be in hard to reach places. He really is your best friend in the game and is the main navigational aid as well as alerting you whenever something sinister is afoot, such as the hanging stick figures or creatures in the dark.
Throughout the game, you’ll come across collectables such as Polaroid pictures that have been discarded showing victims, as well as dog tags, carved figurines and cassette tapes for your camcorder. These tapes provide clues as to what’s happened in the woods and are effective at moving the narrative along whilst providing a very interesting interactive game mechanic. You see, the camcorder and tapes can be used in a way to manipulate the reality you’re in. If you find yourself with a door locked, and find a videotape nearby which depicts someone running through the unlocked door, you can use it to unlock the door in your reality by pausing and exiting the footage at the right moment. It’s a clever gaming mechanic that fits in with the Blair Witch legacy nicely, considering the found footage aspect of the movies.
The sound effects and music in the game are brilliant and perfectly set the scene. This is one of those games I highly recommend using headphones with so you can hear every crunch of the leaves underfoot, the wind in the trees and every dog whimper from your trusty sidekick. Speaking of which, the design of your canine friend is outstanding, from the accurate dog noises to the actual AI of the dog as he sometimes runs off on his own accord and makes his own mind up to have a scratch, roll in the leaves or cock his leg up for a pee. He’s adorable and you quickly come attached to your little friend as you walk through the intimidating Black Hills Forest as darkness creeps in.
Other ways in which the game likes to keep things interactive in what can be a slow-burner of a game is through text messages on your Nokia phone! Okay, so it’s not labelled as such but it’s completely modelled on a Nokia 3210 or similar, complete with the banner wallpaper on the home screen and even includes the same sort of menu from Call Logs to Messages and Settings, and their version of Snake II! I couldn’t stop laughing when discovering this as it brought back memories of my old mobile phones as I tried to navigate my snake round the screen without hitting its own body. As the game is set in 1996 after the events in 1999’s The Blair Witch Project, this and the camcorder Mini DV tapes may not be entirely accurate for the time period (I think they came out late 90’s), but it works effectively in creating a nostalgic sense of time and place to the story.
When it comes to horror games, I’m an absolute scaredy cat. I can watch copious amount of horror with people being sliced and diced or haunted and it doesn’t bother me in the slightest. However, stick me in the shoes of that person, like a videogame does, and I find my heartrate goes through the roof. In BLAIR WITCH, this is no exception as the darkness creeps in and the forest setting looks to suffocate you as creatures lurk in the dark. But is the game actually scary? Apart from a few jump scares, not really. It’s quite disappointing in a way as the environment of the game and the gameplay mechanics are so good but very rarely do you actually feel properly frightened. I might have shrieked a few times throughout the earlier stages in the game when battling creatures in the darkness but they are no means scary. As the game reaches it’s third act, it’s hardly scary at all as it descends more on psychological horror and chooses to make the player re-run through an endless loop of the environment, whether it’s through a caved pathway or through the house that was depicted in the recent 2016 Blair Witch movie. The villains, or enemies, are rather weak in appearance and threat and either require you to shine light at them to defeat them or avoid them completely by using your camcorder’s night vision or simply going in blind and not looking at the enemy. It all gets a bit repetitive and feels out of character of both the game and the film, especially when you can guess at what moment the horror will arrive (darkness + finding a generator to turn on the lamps = enemy attack). I suppose they had to have some sort of enemies but, for me, the most chilling parts of the game are early on as you find bodies and old tent equipment in the middle of the woods. A bit like the first film, your mind can conjure up more horror than what is actually shown.
BLAIR WITCH is a short game running at around 6 hours and has multiple endings though it’s not clear how one might get the different endings. After viewing them on Youtube, I’m not inclined to replay the game to get these endings as they are very similar. Also, I don’t fancy having to slog through the last third of the game which became an exercise in patience as you go through the house what feels like a dozen or more times as your psyche begins to break. As mentioned, it kind of goes full psychological horror which made it feel like it was lifted from another game rather than one that fits in here, and is probably the most disappointing aspect of the game. Despite this, is it worth playing for the stellar buildup though? I’d say yes for the right price however don’t go in with high expectations and just enjoy the scene-setting for what it is, because this is the true triumph of the videogame, not the actual conclusion.