A gloomy woodland shrouded in mist. The perfect environment for a horror. And not a surprising location for the Blair Witch game to take place, which is based on the film series of the same name.
Developed by Bloober Team, I had high expectations of Blair Witch. After all, they’ve begun to get quite the name for themselves developing horror titles. You have Layers of Fear which we reviewed back in 2017, and >Observer_ that released later that same year. Both excellent titles that deservedly received heaps of praise from gamers and journalists alike.
But this title is different. Not in the sense that it’s a completely different style of game as if they decided to make a sports title. No. The difference is that it’s the first title that has been based on an existing premise, one not entirely of their own design.
The game takes place two years after the events of the first movie, The Blair Witch Project. You play the role of former police officer and veteran, Ellis Lynch. Travelling to Black Hills Forest to join a search party for a missing boy, accompanied by his emotional support dog, Bullet.
If the fact you have an emotional support dog doesn’t set off alarm bells, you receive a call from your ex-wife as you head to your destination. She shows signs of worry that you’re heading out to join the search, and her concerns are shared by Sheriff Lanning, the man leading the investigations. All of this indicates that Ellis has a bit of a troubled past.
And whilst the main story is, at first glance, about the search for this missing child, it soon becomes evident Ellis has his own demons to battle. And these issues which he firmly believes are behind him now, actually hold a stronger footing within the game.
In terms of gameplay, it follows very much the same style Bloober Team are known for. A first-person horror, that encourages exploration of your surroundings to unlock the mysteries that lie ahead. Except, this time, you have your handy companion at your side to help sniff out clues and alert you of dangers that lurk in the dark.
Whilst Bullet comes in handy though, don’t lose sight of him for too long. It will lead to Ellis suffering from his anxiety and triggering a panic attack. Again showing the importance that the mental health of the protagonist plays in Blair Witch. Fortunately, you can whistle for him to return or ask him to stay close, so you shouldn’t struggle too much in that aspect.
As you make your way through the wood, Bullet will come across all manner of things. Some useful, some not. But it’s when he growls you want to be alert. Most of the time it will be that he has found one of the little ritual figures that the film series is famous for, hanging from a tree. You can easily dismantle these and he soon calms down.
The other time that Bullet will growl is when he detects what I can only describe as shadow creatures closing in on you. Keep a close eye on him as he will look in their direction. And then very similar to Alan Wake, you point your torch to kill them with the light. Symbolic for Ellis battling a descent into darkness? Maybe.
The remainder of the gameplay relies on you then. Solving puzzles, and communicating with your ex-wife and Sheriff Lanning as you begin to follow the clues you find. But the shadow creatures aren’t the only supernatural aspect to the game.
You also discover a camcorder which possesses the ability to alter events that have already happened in time. You do this through tapes you discover, often showing footage of the missing child. Watching tapes and rewinding them causes your environment to change. So a tree that falls and blocks the way, can be reversed to clear your path.
Whilst, in theory, the gameplay sounds solid, there are a few bugs here and there, often involved when interacting with Bullet I found. Nothing major that should impact the game too much, but he seemed to get stuck on occasion if you interact with him at a time the game doesn’t like.
It also felt as if the mechanics were a little slow too. Movement often feels stiff and heavy, but I don’t think it is helped by the fact that the story does take quite a while to get into. It just didn’t really get going for me until I was about an hour in. Despite the game being able to be completed in just a few hours.
I think the other drawback is that considering it’s a horror title, based on a horror film, it had very little scare factor and failed to send chills down my spine. But then again, as I mentioned above, it almost feels like this game is more a battle with Ellis’ mental health than searching for a missing child.
One thing the game does do well is getting the graphics and audio pretty spot on. Environments are not overly detailed, but detailed enough that they set the right kind of atmosphere for the game. Because you wouldn’t really notice every little thing in the dark.
Then, at the right moments, the audio steps in. And although I didn’t really feel scared at any point, you do feel tension building. From the simplest sounds of you trekking through mud to the mood changing music slowly fading in as you approach danger.
Whilst Blair Witch has by no means been my favourite horror title, or even my favourite Bloober Team title, it was enjoyable to play. I’m not so sure I would replay again though. It failed to grab my interest like other horrors such as Outlast and lacked the same ability to make me shart myself. Still, it’s a solid effort and worth checking out if you’re a fellow horror buff.
Blair Witch TL;DR:
- Beautiful and detailed environments;
- Feels more about the protagonists battle with mental health than the actual story of finding a missing boy;
- A game where you have a dog at your side? What’s not to love about that;
- Not likely to be the best horror title you’ll play this year.
Blair Witch is a psychological survival horror game, developed by Bloober Team and published by Lionsgate Games. The title is available now, having been released on August 30, 2019, for Windows PC and the Xbox One family of consoles.