I wasn’t big into horror in my childhood years–maybe it’s because I’m easily scared. Even so though, when The Blair Witch Project came out, I saw it. Hardly anyone didn’t go for that downward spiral of a hike through the woods and even less people weren’t at least a little freaked out by it. It had good tension and pacing and built up to those final big well-earned scares. Even if it’s been a while, The Blair Witch Project was a household name and so, when Blair Witch VR came out, I suspected it might be an interesting new addition to the “franchise” as it were. After all, VR is already such an isolation chamber, something that can be eerie on its own–it’d be easy to pack in the scares and really get my heart rate up. Well, it didn’t turn out that way, unfortunately.
We’ve reviewed Blair Witch before here, both in VR and not, so I had an idea of what to expect. In Blair Witch VR you play as Ellis, a combat veteran with PTSD, who, along with his dog Bullet, are joining the search for nine year old Peter, who went missing in the Black Hills Forest–the very same one those kids died in all those years ago, and which is of course, reportedly the domain of the Blair Witch.
After some unnecessarily long front loaded cut scenes, you’re thrown out into the forest for a prologue that also serves as a tutorial. The search is already underway, and though there’s signs of the search party, there’s no one left to greet you, so you must gather some rudimentary supplies and clues on your own.
This is the first place I had a problem with Blair Witch VR, as about two minutes in, I realized it was making me motion sick. What’s strange about that, is that Blair Witch VR has a pretty robust range of options in its settings to avoid this, including teleportation (which I use by default in VR games) and that nebulous “comfort” setting. I think one of the things that set me up for the motion sickness was the cut scenes I didn’t skip for story purposes coming in. Unfortunately, though they’re cinematographically pretty, there’s a lot of spinning and weird angles that make you feel, well, queasy. I thought that might even subside after a bit, but movement is janky, and it’s easy to overrotate when trying to turn your view, and both of those factors made it worse. Eventually, I decided to try seated mode rather than standing, and that seemed to help a little, but not enough to make me have to play in smaller chunks.
There’s a lot of moving parts to the VR gameplay. Your hip holsters a cell phone, so you can relive the tragic story of you and your ex girlfriend/wife even while you try not to get killed by a supernatural being or a murderer in the woods, a walkie talkie so you can hear other people potentially dying or those very necessary witch whispers, and a whistle to control Bullet. Later on you’ll get a video camera too. As I’ve found with other VR games in the past, this is all pretty clunky. As good as VR technology is already, in a lot of cases, and definitely in Blair Witch VR, grabbing something from your hip may prove difficult. You know where your actual hip is, but the game doesn’t know where that is, at least not super accurately. Similarly, when I’d reach for the walkie on my shoulder, it’d often give me the whistle for Bullet which was supposedly hanging down around my neck. This makes for a lot of dumb fumbling and mars the experience.
Or, it would, if there was much of an experience to have in the first place. The thing about Blair Witch VR is that it’s rather tedious. Most of the time you’re just walking in the woods, chasing a lead that Bullet has probably found, and finding spooky things, like those stick figures and some carvings. There’s a couple of calls to ‘base’ and some flashbacks, and some phone calls that are supposed to build a world and help you feel something for the characters, but mostly, you don’t. I think I most cared about Bullet and if he’d be okay. As for scares, sometimes in the tedium I’d convince myself I heard things but my own mind was better at building tension than the game was. Add to this a few places where you literally have to walk around in circles before an event triggers and you’ve also got frustrating “puzzles” that aren’t actually puzzles that take you right out of your scared little brain.
Something else that makes immersion hard is the poor graphics and poor draw distance, something we saw in the Index version that’s also true here, but even moreso. There’s a sort of darkness that just hangs out in the background until you get close enough for it to fill in you can tell isn’t really a design choice. Overall, it just doesn’t look great. On top of this, responsiveness can be pretty bad. On my first run, I got inextricably stuck in a fence because I teleported on top of it. It ended the run, as there was no way to unstick. In another case, I got really wigged out when it seemed like something supernatural and terrible was manipulating Bullet, only to realize that I accidentally hit the “Snack” command on the whistle over 2 minutes earlier and he was standing on his back feet to get a treat that’d long been gone from my hand.
Overall, I didn’t really care about the story, the scares were cheap or nonexistent, there was a lot of unnecessary issues with teleportation, and just in general I found myself wanting to get through it as quickly as possible because at the end of the day, it wasn’t really any fun, or much of a great horror experience. Since everyone’s tolerance and idea of horror is different, I’d tend to say your miles may vary, but with a good amount of glitches and high motion sickness factor even with the comfort settings turned on, I’d say it’s not a game I recommend regardless.
Blair Witch VR is available now on Oculus Rift S.
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