Game: Blair Witch
Consoles: PC (reviewed), Xbox One
Publisher: Bloober Team
Developer: Bloober Team NA
(Author’s Note: A review copy was supplied by Bloober Team.)
In 1999 the world of modern horror changed forever with the release of The Blair Witch Project. A super low-budget film about a group of friends exploring the woods outside of Burkittsville, Maryland. Hunted down by a supernatural, malevolent witch the group is killed and never heard from again. Boasting two painfully average sequels, developer Bloober Team attempt to breathe new life into this twisted franchise.
Set a couple years after the events of the film, players assume the role of former police officer Ellis. With a young boy missing, Ellis joins the search for him that’s currently taking place in the Black Hills Forest. Joined by your trusty canine companion and the goodest boy, Bullet, it’s up to you to locate this child. Once in the forest, Ellis’ world begins to twist and warp as the witch’s influence seeps into every aspect of the world.
Unlike the movies, Bloober Team’s version of the Blair Witch is much more coherent and concise. Ellis’ descent into madness serves as a fantastic driving force to move players from one set-piece event to another. There’s more to him than meets the eye and Bloober Team does a terrific job placing just enough breadcrumbs for users to follow. Decoding why the witch wants Ellis is equal parts terrifying and intriguing, but to say any more would tread into spoiler territory.
Of course, this story could change depending on how you react to the world around you. Throughout the game, you will be presented with both major and minor choices that end up drastically affecting how the story finishes. Boasting five endings, Blair Witch challenges players to consider every decision they make once setting foot int he woods. It’s an elegant system that judges people by their actions, not what option they picked on a random dialogue wheel.
Making this harrowing trek alongside you is Bullet, your faithful dog that acts as the players only ally in the woods. Yet, Bullet is there for more than just moral support, as he serves a variety of gameplay functions. Bullet can track scents, dig up lost items, reach areas that are typically inaccessible, and alert Ellis when enemies are around. Much like Ellis, Bullet’s fate is entirely determined by the player and how they treat him. Users can reprimand, pet, and feed this cute dog treats alongside typical commands such as sit or come.
Ellis’s relationship with Bullet is the crux of the story, serving as the game’s emotional backbone throughout the roughly 6-hour journey. It’s difficult not to get attached to Bullet, especially as the game progresses and your reliance on him increases. I found myself doing everything in my power to make sure Bullet survived. Bloober Team spends a hefty amount of time helping the player really grow attached to him. Whenever I found myself separated from Bullet I ended up desperately mashing the call command to make sure he was okay.
Bullet’s core mechanical purpose is to alert the player of when enemies are around. Unlike the films, Blair Witch introduces twisted, skinny forest monsters that attack at night. Hiding among the trees and brush, these fast-moving humanoid beasts can be defeated by shining your flashlight on them. Since you can barely see them, watching where Bullet is growling is key to slaying these creatures. It’s a very simplistic combat system that works the first time, but increasingly grows stale.
Since you can only take a couple of hits before dying, being able to rapidly dispatch these monsters is critical. However, since they’re very difficult to make out in the woods you’ll need to watch Bullet which proves to be easier said than done. On multiple occasions, I could barely make my dog out in all the chaos since he randomly moves and blends in with the environment. This turns what could be a terrifying sequence into a frustrating, annoying fight that ends up breaking the game’s slow, deliberate pace.
Other enemies include a giant ball of angry leaves (Yes, really) and some creatures you aren’t allowed to look at. Gazing at them will instantly kill Ellis and at the time of writing this, I still have no real idea what they look like. You cannot kill these creatures, which ratchets up the tension and delivers some of Blair Witch’s scariest sequences.
Blair Witch also boasts some light puzzling solving involving a camcorder you find in the woods. Periodically you’ll come across tapes that you can use to manipulate the environment around you. Pausing a tape when a door is open will cause it to unlock in the game world, giving you access to new areas. It’s a clever way to tie-in the found footage aspect of the films, but Blair Witch’s puzzles never prove to be truly challenging or clever. Most can be solved quite quickly, so don’t expect any real brain teasers.
Graphically, the Blair Witch is a hauntingly beautiful game that perfectly captures the emptiness of the Black Hills Forest. There’s an uncomfortable stillness to the woods, yet I could never shake the feeling of being watched. While you are loosely regulated to a set path, Blair Witch offers just enough freedom for those brave enough to go out into the forest. Bloober strikes a needed balance here, as I never found myself truly lost for more than a few minutes.
But that’s the beauty of Blair Witch. You will feel lost. You will feel alone. You will feel as if the world is out to get you at any moment. It’s both serene and deeply upsetting, but it never crosses the line of being outright cheesy. Even the fabled Blair Witch house is lovingly recreated, with twisting corridors and rooms changing as you explore. It’s classic Bloober Team, so fans of Layers of Fear will feel right at home exploring the witch’s abode.
Blair Witch Takeaways
At its best, Blair Witch is a short, but haunting experience that both honors the franchise, while expanding upon its lore. Even with some mediocre combat and puzzle sequences, Blair Witch’s story is captivating from start to finish. Bullet is absolutely adorable and Ellis serves as a complex, but fascinating player character. While it may take a little time to get going, this moody, atmospheric horror game will have you looking over your shoulder.
Our Blair Witch Review Score: 7.5 out of 10