When The Blair Witch Project came out in 1999 it was a phenomenon, spawning a huge cut following and practically inventing a new type of horror film—the found footage horror. The found footage genre would be perfect for a video game—Outlast and its sequel, as well as a few other games take advantage of this format. In fact, when I saw the trailer for Blair Witch I thought, “Holy crap, that hasn’t really been relevant since the 90’s” (I forgot the 2016 film was a thing) but I also thought,” Huh, this could be really good.” It isn’t.
Now, off the top of my head I know there have been three Blair Witch video games. Each was part of a three volume set, but developed by different development studios. And each explored a different aspect of the legend around the Blair Witch, and what led to her being the supernatural force putting college kids in the corner. I was hoping for some deepening of the background on the witch, or even an interesting new story told within the setting—I got neither.
Blair Witch takes place in 1996—two years after the events of The Blair Witch Project, which is referenced in passing dialogue. You play as veteran with PTSD after the loss of his unit in the Middle East. The event haunts him, and he frequently sees images that are part of his war time memories. Accompanying you on your journey into the woods is your faithful dog, Bullet, who effectively points out enemies, and even helps you to find your way forward occasionally.
Blair Witch had the opportunity to be a great survival horror—its initial trailer impressions gave me strong Resident Evil 7 vibes. It doesn’t come close, sadly. Instead, Blair Witch is more like a walking simulator than a survival horror game—more of a plodding adventure than a fight through the woods. That makes sense, based on how elusive the eponymous witch can be, and such a setting could have easily made for a great, tense adventure game, but scares are few and far between.
Something that is great throughout most of Blair Witch is the atmosphere. From the foreboding woods, to the downright creepy lost-in-the-dark vibe, Blair Witch has atmosphere in spades. But again, it doesn’t capitalize on it. Many scenarios in Blair Witch involve you looking for the next place to go, something made increasingly annoying by the extreme overuse of hallucinations. We get it, the Blair Witch fucks with your mind, but it doesn’t really make for a pleasant or scary experience. And sometimes, it’s downright unpleasant for all the wrong reasons.
In fact, the whole Blair Witch things feels like a bit of an afterthought at times. There are the telltale Blair Witch signs—the hanging stick figures everywhere, for one. But really, the protagonist could have been anywhere lost in the woods and suffered from the same hallucinations and phobias, completely unrelated to the Blair Witch. It isn’t until the very end that you even see the house that was part of the climax of the original film, but even then, it’s a tedious, painful encounter—and one of many you’ll suffer along the way.
Instead of conventional puzzles, most of what you’ll be battling are hallucinations, false paths, and your own willingness to proceed through the tedium. Of course, there are more conventional puzzles too—usually tasks, like restoring power to a generator. Surprsingly, it’s in its conventional gameplay that Blair Witch feels the most fun. And it’s not without its interesting ideas.
You start off with a cell phone, and being in the woods, it has spotty reception. I was hoping the phone would have more gameplay purpose, but it really just serves as a way to tell the story through expository bursts during phone conversations. Same thing with the radio you eventually pick up.
The most intriguing mechanic in the game isn’t exactly the most unique, but it’s interesting: the camcorder. The camcorder is used to view the various tapes left along the way—these lead to clues to the whereabouts of the missing kid, and serve as an introduction to a crazed woodsman who is under the spell of the Blair Witch. The camcorder also has powers—some tapes allow you to rewind and fast forward events to clear obstacles, or make appear items that help progress the story.
There are enemies that you can encounter in the woods, but I wouldn’t call these encounters combat. These shadow creatures are scared of your flash light, naturally, so shining your light on them scares them away. Bullet, your faithful dog, can be harmed by them though—and will point out the normally hard-to-see creatures.
Your relationship with Bullet throughout the game drops a ton of pathos on you, especially when he’s endangered, or is actually injured. It’s not done in poor taste, but it’s nowhere near subtle, either.
Blair Witch is tedious, and ocassionally unpleasant to play. It has great atmosphere, but it relies too heavily on the unreliable narrator shtick, and ends up getting lost in the woods. I felt nothing for the main character, and by the time I got to the climatic encounter at the house, I was looking for the nearest corner to get murdered in.
Blair Witch is available now on Xbox One and Windows.
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