Y’all, it’s time to head back into the woods, to hang onto an old digital camera and to film everything for some reason. It’s Blair Witch time. Honestly, before the big E3 announcement, I wouldn’t have believed that a game based on the infamous found footage trailblazer would have a game attached to the franchise but, we live in special times and here we are.
Blair Witch is based in the world of the Daniel Myrick and Eduardo Sánchez 1999 film. The super indie film that changed the genre and made tons of moolah, found a group of film students who traveled out to the Black Hills Forest of Burkittsville to film a doc about the famous Blair Witch. Spoilers, but none of them were ever heard from again.
The Blair Witch game takes place in the same universe as the first film. It follows a war veteran named Ellis and his dog Bullet out to the Black Hills Forrest in search of a missing boy. Armed with nothing but a flashlight, a cell phone and his trusty canine pal, Ellis heads into those spooky woods not prepared for the horrors that lay in wait.
Bloober Team are the folks behind Layers of Fear and Observer. If you are familiar with those psychological mind fucks, you know the direction this game is headed. The game is built around exploration of your surroundings in order to find clues to locate the boy. These are found by searching about, but a lot more can be found and unlocked if you utilize Bullet and his trusty snout.
Bullet is the needle in this compass. He will lead you in the right direction when he isn’t leading you to candy bar wrappers. You interact with bullet by way of a selection wheel that offers commands like stay close, seek, pet, scold, etc… I mostly spent time petting Bullet or had him seek out clues. I don’t wanna know the monster who chooses to scold the poor dude.
Of course this wouldn’t be a Blair Witch experience if the game didn’t go bump in the night, and don’t worry it does. The further your search takes you, the harder it becomes to discern between what is real and what is in your head. This becomes really tricky when you realize that Ellis has really bad PTSD and it gets revved up when he is away from Bullet and forced to face solitude. Ultimately, this puts you in a place where you aren’t sure if the Witch is making your demons or if you are making your own demons.
I really appreciate Bloober’s approach to Ellis’ PTSD. It’s taken very seriously and with an eye for the actual sort of panic and surrounding psychosis that comes with it. There is a very real terror that lies outside of the supernatural stuff and Bloober did a fantastic job of illustrating that.
Rather you know it or not the game is taking everything you do into account. The innovative mechanic is subtle but its there. Blair Witch isn’t building your fate through dialogue trees and on the fly choices. Instead, it is monitoring the innocuous. The way you treat your dog, the people you decide to ring on your phone, how far you play into what could be psychosis. Everything and every step is changing the games final conclusion in interesting ways.
“Blair Witch is a absorbing
and unnerving experience.”
On my first play through, I got the second to worst ending. And by worst, I mean fucking bleak. I’m not sure if there is a “positive” outcome to be had, but trust me when I say mine was one of the darkest. While on one hand, I could see my ending being the fate of the protagonist in a Blair Witch film, I still want to go back and give it another play through or two in order to explore the woods more and ultimately see how different of an ending I can get by doing a couple of minuet things differently.
What would Blair Witch be without an old digital camera? The answer is, it wouldn’t be Blair Witch. Not to worry, the camera is fully implemented with a creative twist. Throughout Blair Witch Ellis will find video tapes that he can play on his camera. These give clues to what is going on in the world around you but it also has mystic properties. It has the ability to affect the real world. Watching certain sections of the video in reverse or pausing certain moments on tape, transforms objectives in the game. For example, if a door is shut, or a tree is blocking your path, rewinding in video might assist in opening that door or moving that tree. This along with the twisting and adaptive narrative are two mechanics that are very unique to this title and something I wish we could see more of in future Blair Witch titles… if there are any.
I played an early version of Blair Witch, that has since had some updates added for stability and performance. At the time, I played there was a few bugs that affected Bullet’s behavior including a large frustrating bit toward the end of the game that caused Bullet to not follow me. After awhile Bullet was zorped over to me. Needless to say, this was really annoying. Patch notes for the most recent update do address Bullet’s behavior so, I’m hopeful this was sussed out.
Blair Witch is a absorbing and unnerving experience. It fits perfectly into the Blair Witch mythos by exploring the world around the witch without ruining the mystery behind her. Terrifying atmosphere and innovative mechanics make this one a must play for horror fans.
Blair Witch is out now on PC and Xbox One.