Blair Witch Review
In 1999, a small crew of people on a budget of $60,000 set out to make The Blair Witch Project. The film did exceptionally well, pulling in close to $250 million at the box office. On top of this, it was the movie that would popularize the found-footage genre, becoming one of the all-time greats of the medium. Fast forward to 2019, and Bloober Team’s Blair Witch looks to recreate the horror and feelings of terror that so many of us experienced two decades ago. While they don’t hit the mark 100% of the time, Bloober Team has created an enjoyable companion piece to the movie, with a storyline that will keep you engaged, and an atmosphere that will have your heart pounding.
** Caution: Spoilers Ahead! **
Set two years after the events of the original film, a young boy has gone missing in the Black Hills Forest. You play as Ellis, a detective with dark secrets and a sordid past. Of course, the investigation quickly goes to hell, and you discover that you aren’t as alone as you thought. The atmosphere through the early-going is fantastic. The game plays out similar to the movie in that things go well enough for you through the first little bit; however, you quickly start to fall prey to the tricks of the forest. I came across a log that I used as a marker for navigation and pushed on past it. A few minutes later, I walked up on the same log. I was moving in circles. As a fan of the lore, I was smiling from ear to ear, feeling like I was playing through the movie itself.
Ellis also struggles with anxiety and depression, and these two ailments manifest themselves in gameplay. As Ellis becomes more fearful, he moves more slowly and has a more obscured field of vision. Adding to this is his relationship with Jess. Things have been falling apart for them for quite some time, and while Ellis feels he needs Jess, she, on the other hand, is ready to move on. The circumstances behind her feelings unfold throughout the game, and some of it is truly heartbreaking to witness. All of this, I think, would be too much for almost any man to bear alone, but thankfully Ellis’s trusty sidekick Bullet is there to support you throughout your journey.
Bullet is a German Shepherd that will find items for you, lead you in the direction you need to go, and most importantly, keep you calm. This is true of Ellis, of course, but I often found Bullet keeping me from stressing too much. Whether this was intended or not I’m unsure, but every time I’d pet the dog I found my own fear settling just a little bit. It’s another exciting way the game connects the player to what’s happening and helps to build a relationship with Bullet in an effective way. I did find, however, that by the three or four-hour mark, the scares started to wane and I was using Bullet less and less to calm my anxieties.
A Strong Finish
During the second act, you learn about the physical force that’s been stalking the woods. You actually end up having a conversation with him. This is one of my major gripes with the game. Upon discovering who this is, much of what’s supposed to scare the player is lost. You’re no longer wondering if this figure you’ve seen in videotapes scattered throughout the forest is coming for you next. It’s a similar situation to Resident Evil 7, wherein the opening hours were terrifying, but once you learned about the threat, it became much easier to manage.
Luckily, the Bloober Team saved their best thrills for last. The final chunk of the game is a heart-pounding trek through the infamous house from the film. Actually being able to explore the seemingly endless maze inside its walls was a dream come true for a fan such as myself, and this turned out to be by far the most exhilarating part of the experience. Your time spent in the house is grueling and will test the mettle of even the most hardcore of horror genre enthusiasts, thanks in large part to a tour de force of sound design.
** End of Spoilers **
Full 360-degree binaural audio was developed for Blair Witch with terrifying realism. Every snapping tree branch, every howl of the wind, every voice heard in the distance all sound perfect, and with a good set of headphones the experience literally had me breaking out in a sweat. The audio is so good, I wouldn’t recommend playing without a set of headphones. I played once through the game with, and once without, and can definitively say the experience without doesn’t even come close. So many nuances and subtleties are lost when playing through speakers that I would argue that the game isn’t scary when doing so. It isn’t flawless, however, as I did come across a few audio syncing issues, as well as several other bugs and annoyances.
Not Without Flaws
Minor frame rate and clipping issues would pop up throughout the game – Bullet being able to run through just about anything. It’s also remarkably easy to get stuck to branches, rocks, and general debris. It’s so dark for most of the game that it’s difficult to tell what you’re sticking to, but so often I would find myself struggling to move out of some nook I’d wandered off into. More frustrating than that, doors were an absolute pain to walk through. For some reason, I would have to turn my body to the right or left and pass through a door sideways to get by. By the seventh or eighth time, it was laughable.
The Blair Witch Project fans and horror game fans alike will find lots to enjoy here. The roughly five-hour campaign can be completed in a few sittings, and with four different endings, there’s lots to come back for. It isn’t always great, but when it hits the mark its a ton of fun. A weak second act keeps it from being a home run, but it’s worth battling through just to play that final sequence. At times, Blair Witch genuinely had me feeling like I was playing through the movie, and as a fan, isn’t that all I can ask for?
** A PC game code was provided by the publisher **
- Heart-pounding atmosphere
- Effective storytelling
- Great sound design
- Not scary without headphones
- Weak second act
- Frequent bugs
- Plot revelations take fear away