Title: Blair Witch
Available on: PC, Xbox One
Developer: Bloober Team
Publisher: Bloober Team
Genre: Psychological Horror, Indie
Version Tested: PC
Official Site: Blair Witch
Release Date: August 30, 2019
Where to Buy: Steam, Microsoft Store
In the ’90s, The Blair Witch took the world by storm. It was responsible for starting the found-footage genre, and people actually believed that the film was a true documentary. The cult-classic film is still appreciated for the way it invited new mechanics into the genre, and Blair Witch is no different.
Did You Hear That?
Blair Witch is meant to test your state of mind and your abilities to stay calm in stressful situations:
It’s 1996. A young boy disappears in the Black Hills Forest near Burkittsville, Maryland. As Ellis, a former police officer with a troubled past, you join the search. What starts as an ordinary investigation soon turns into an endless nightmare as you confront your fears and the Blair Witch, a mysterious force that haunts the woods…
Blair Witch does horror really well, especially towards the beginning of the game. As you delve deeper and deeper into the woods, the creepier the game becomes. The visuals are just awesome, and as the woods grow darker, it is almost like you start to feel the anxiety of actually being lost in the woods. Alongside the haunting visuals, the binaural recording really puts you into Ellis’ shoes. From whispers in the woods to subtle pops and cracks in the dark forest, the visuals and sound design work together to create a terrifying atmosphere.
This terrifying romp in the woods has some really cool mechanics, and it sets this horror title apart. Ellis is accompanied by his four-legged companion Bullet, and while he is incredibly adorable, the pup is also a huge aspect of the gameplay. He can seek a scent trail and lead the way, alert you to the presence of enemies, and grab things just out of reach. And how effective he is will depend on how well you treat him throughout the game, so don’t be afraid to hand out those scritches!
Another tool you’ll use quite a bit is a video camera (a true nod to the original film). As Ellis and Bullet make their way through the woods, they will occasionally discover mysterious videotapes. So, not only do these tapes fill in the story and act as a marker but they also physically affect the world around you to reveal the way. Along with a phone and walkie-talkie, the developers came up with some really cool and unique ways to use the create scares with these everyday items.
Even the Blair Witch Gets A Little Lost
The game has two major things working against it: a lack of polish and pacing issues. As cool as the mechanics in place are, they don’t always work the way they should or the way you would expect them to. Bullet, for example, isn’t always super focused. I died a handful of times because Bullet didn’t alert me to enemies or he wanted to run in circles. These small annoyances are scattered throughout the game, and as much as I wanted to overlook them, there were just too many.
Unfortunately, despite its incredibly strong start, Blair Witch definitely starts to get lost. The last few hours of the game turns its back on the clever puzzles and creepy forests for constant PT-esque loops. By the time I reached the final section of the game, I was just kind of begging it to be over because I had become so desensitized to the environment and what was happening. So, unfortunately, things don’t come together so well in the end.
Much like Bloober Team’s other horror title Layers of Fear, mental illness plays a big part in Blair Witch. Within the horror genre, it isn’t new to see mental illness played up for the overall effect, and, in this case, it is a little too much. In Layers of Fear, the mental illness elements were a bit more abstract, and Blair Witch would have benefited from that gentle touch. Especially in the last hour or two of the game. The end game is extremely repetitive, and they really start to beat the player over the head with Ellis’ PTSD. Even worse, it seems like it’s used as more of a crutch for the narrative versus an actual part of the storytelling.
Verdict: Blair Witch is loosely inspired by the cult-classic film from the ’90s, but it adds a whole new layer to the mythos surrounding the witch and her woods. As far as psychological horror goes, Bloober Team created some really cool and unique mechanics with the camera and your four-legged companion, Bullet. Matched with great visuals and terrifying sound design, this spine-tingling game should have been a home-run. However, a lack of polish and horrible pacing towards the end lessens an otherwise great experience.