Despite becoming a cult classic, the Blair Witch series never really took off. I only ever saw the first film and that’s was back when I was far too young to see it. Bloober Team are on hand with this new video game entry into the franchise. I loved Layers of Fear and Observer, so let’s see how they handle this interesting mythos.
Ellis was a former solider who turned to law enforcement when he arrived home. After suffering with PTSD, his mental health began to fail and he made many, devastating mistakes in his career. His salvation comes in the form of a new case. To help a search party find a missing child lost in the Black Hill Forest. Aided by his tracker dog, Bullet, Ellis finds himself deeper and deeper into the woods and begins to notice the horrors within.
View the Blair Witch launch trailer below:
The premise itself is pretty generic. We’ve seen this plot many times but Bloober Team do a great job of humanising these characters. There’s a decent amount of depth to Ellis and his growing relationship with Bullet feels genuine. Ellis frequently calls his ex-wife and the conversations feel real and are quite involving. There are a few other characters in the game and they all verge on different sides of mysterious. As you progress the plot begins and as expected, it plays with your expectations. It’s grim and bleak but I felt like I was going through the motions. It was far from bad, but I felt like I was being guided through a monster house. As the games comes to a close, it ups the ante and just, well, ends.
To be honest I wasn’t expecting much more than that. Though something did peak my curiosity, there were a few extra paths and story elements in the game that I did and maybe there was a chance to change something? This is where Blair Witch shines. You are going to get the bad ending on your first run through, it’s just the way it is. On my second run, I took control and decided what I needed to do, and the story changed, it’s still bleak, it’s still creepy but it’s such an excellent change. Games rarely do this, rarer still do they nail it. The other ending I got wasn’t the most satisfying but I felt it was the ending I needed. I’m sure there are more to discover and I can’t wait to jump in again.
Your dog, Bullet, is far more than a cuddly pet. He reacts to enemies, has a great tracking sense and more importantly, acts as moral support to Ellis. Keeping Bullet close is important as is how you treat him. Petting him and feeding him treats keeps you both happy and has an effect on the narrative. That doesn’t mean being nice guarantees you the best ending either. Yes, there are enemies and they are pretty poor. Shine a flashlight on one variety and run away from another, nothing special, save for one type. As expected, there are several puzzles in the game and they are simple enough to not block progress. You have a few tools at your disposal. A Walkie Talkie and a phone give you access to other characters and are effectively used for scares. The camera is the most useful tool besides Bullet. By finding tapes, you examine the footage to find hidden items and even alter reality. The most effective sequence in the game used the camera and its night-vision mode, traipsing through fog at an inch a minute was very unsettling, this is where the scariest enemy roams.
Blair Witch is not the best-looking game. Textures weren’t very good and the framerate was horrible at a constant level. The design of Black Hills Forest is fantastic though, how the team created so many creepy trees is a mystery to me. Lighting is also excellent, from misty days to pitch black nights, it is used effectively. Voice acting was very good, especially the voice actor for Ellis. Unfortunately, there were plenty of bugs throughout the game.
View some Blair Witch screenshots in our gallery:
The main question for any horror game is, “Is it scary?”. Personally, I wouldn’t say so. What it does excellently is the sense of dread. This is a story about a mentally ill man, trying his best not to break and it’s hard not to be invested. His relationship with Bullet is brilliant and goes deeper than expected. The story may not go the way you wanted this first time, in fact, it’s clearly designed not to. Dig beneath the surface however and you’ll find a surprisingly effective and more importantly, different, horror game.
Blair Witch was reviewed using a copy of the game included with Xbox Game Pass.
Publisher: Bloober Team Developer: Bloober Team Release Date: 30th August, 2019 Reviewed On: Xbox One X Also Available On: PS4, PC