Blair Witch is a psychological/survival horror game developed by Bloober Team and published by Lionsgate Games. At the time of writing, it’s a console exclusive for Microsoft’s Xbox One and launched via their Game Pass program in 2019.
I’m surely not the only one that was shocked to see this game announced at E3 back in June. Let’s be honest, Blair Witch isn’t exactly hot right now. The most recent film in the franchise released to mostly negative reviews. Before that was the disastrous Book of Shadows (2000) and there is even debate on how well the original holds up. Regardless, I’m sure we can all agree that the very concept alone is a solid one. More often than not, movies translate better into games than vice versa. How does Blair Witch fare?
The game is set in the year 1996, two years after the events of the first film. Ellis, a former police officer and a veteran, travels to the Black Hills Forest to join the search party for a missing boy. He brings with him, his pet dog, Bullet. When he arrives at the Forest, he takes his flashlight, acquires a Walkie-Talkie and begins his search. A primary mechanic is the ability to interact with Bullet and give them commands.
It isn’t long before Ellis will come to realise that he is simply a pawn, stuck in the twisted playhouse of the Blair Witch.
Blair Witch is a fantastic horror experience but it does have some glaring issues. Firstly, I’d like to compare it to Outlast which is a similar game. Many of the issues that people have with that game are improved upon. Gone are batteries for flashlights/camcorders that run out in mere minutes. Also, unlike Outlast it doesn’t make you feel completely powerless to the threats surrounding you. There are a few enemy encounters in Blair Witch. You can fight off these monsters by pointing a light at them, Alan Wake style.
One of the strongest aspects of this game is surprisingly, the narrative. At first, it seems simplistic but as you progress you’ll come to understand its complexity. As a character, Ellis isn’t as straightforward as he seems. Blair Witch deals with some rather sensitive themes. Personally, I felt that it dealt with them in a very believable way. The voice acting in the game is tremendous, better than it needed to be.
Blair Witch has a number of creative gameplay mechanics that I enjoyed. Firstly, Bullet as a companion is a clever addition. I liked how therapeutic his presence can be for Ellis and the player themselves. Simply taking a moment to stop and pet Bullet after something harrowing can be very comforting. He cannot actually keep you safe but his mere presence feels like something of a safety blanket. Unfortunately, his A.I. isn’t perfect but it mostly works as it should.
Secondly, the camcorder is utilised in interesting ways. It pays homage to the original film and found footage films at the same time.
An important question when reviewing any horror game, is it scary? The game has an eerie, claustrophobic atmosphere. I never felt completely safe, as if I was always being observed. Simply put, it depends on each players individual sensibilities on whether or not the game scares you. My heart rate increased throughout and it even got a few jumps out of me. However, it does get cheap on a couple of occasions. Much of the fear will depend on your ability to immerse yourself in the experience. I really enjoyed the psychological horror opposed to the jump scares. The sound design and effects are excellent as well.
Visually, the game certainly looks the part. The vast woods are filled with sprawling, twisted trees that make for some cool screen shots. Blair Witch shows a lot of restraint in the early hours and then just does batshit near the end.
Yes, you do get to explore the Blair Witch cabin. This is something I’ve never had much desire to do. Mainly because I knew how creepy it would be and it didn’t disappoint me.
There are a number of alternative endings in the game which help add a good amount of replayability.
In terms of negatives, there a few. Firstly, feeling lost and disorientated is the bread and butter of Blair Witch. However, it can get boring wandering mindlessly through trees hoping to stumble across the right path. This can be damaging to the pacing of the game and a real tension killer at times.
Enemy encounters are frantic but cumbersome. Thankfully, there aren’t too many. Repeated deaths can damage tension as well. A big issue is with Ellis getting stuck on small branches or even when trying to go through doorways. It’s frustrating and happens a little too often. Finally, the inventory system is poor. It’s impossible to know how much of one type of item you have and how many remain.
Overall, I had low expectations for this game and I believe most did as well. However, Bloober Team have definitely exceeded those expectations. Not only have they delivered a memorable horror experience but they may just have given us the best Silent Hill game in years.