Blair Witch: A Solid, but Flawed Descent into Terror
Both developed and published by Bloober Team, Blair Witch is a new psychological horror video game. It came out on August 30, 2019, exclusively for Xbox One and PC/Steam. Bloober Team is known for a few other horror games, most notably Layers of Fear. They’ve brought their usual flair to Blair Witch, and in doing so, put their own unique spin on the old legend. While this game boasts many accomplishments, it also has a few downfalls. There’s much to unearth with this title.
The story of Blair Witch takes place in the small, historic town of Burkittsville, Maryland. It just so happens to be home to the Black Hills Forest. In 1996, a young boy goes missing in the forest, so a group of police officers and volunteers conduct a search. Ellis, a former cop, takes part in the search, and is accompanied by his faithful canine companion, Bullet. Soon enough, Ellis begins his own investigation. However, it quickly takes a terrifying turn and spirals into a seemingly endless nightmare. As Ellis is forced to confront his troubled past, it becomes clear that a mysterious force is lurking in the woods. Something sinister.
This game is an original story based on the classic Blair Witch myth. It was spun into a story-driven psychological horror video game by Bloober Team. Apart from Layers of Fear, they’re known for Layers of Fear 2 and Observer.
In the game, players must trek through a cursed forest that distorts time and space; one influenced by the Blair Witch and her powers. Similarly, players experience the horrors of such a forest, along with the ruin the Witch is capable of. Fitting with this theme, there’s a distinct camera mechanic. The player can watch red tapes, which provides clues to progress the story. They also have the power to manipulate the surrounding environment. For example, if a fallen tree blocks your path, you can rewind a tape to a point when the tree was still standing. This change will be reflected in the present timeline as well.
The camera has another mechanic. This one allows the player to use a UV filter, which can reveal hidden trails. Furthermore, Bullet is a vital part of the game, and as such, there are several mechanics centered around him. Bullet can help the player find clues and follow scents. Likewise, the dog can point out and track enemies; Ellis can then blast them with light to defeat them for good. More importantly, Bullet has a positive impact on the protagonist’s mental health and overall well-being. In turn, Ellis can pet Bullet to comfort and calm him.
With so many gameplay mechanics, it’s only realistic that some would stick, and others, not so much. Although Blair Witch has a few pitfalls throughout its six hour runtime, most of it is a solid, enjoyable experience. First, this game builds and maintains an effective, eerie atmosphere. It invokes the sense of constantly being watched, like there truly is something lurking in the woods. I genuinely felt tense and creeped out as I played. Even if there weren’t any enemies around, I never really felt safe. Honestly, I thought something could strike at any moment. That’s clear evidence of a masterful atmosphere.
Sound Design/Voice Acting
In addition, the sound design is on point. Background noise, like the snapping of twigs, is very well placed and further enhances the suspenseful ambience. Not only is the sound design well-done, the voice acting is also great. The various characters sound distinct, and all the voices match with their respective characters. Each character’s voice acting adds a layer of emotion and depth to them. This helps to make the characters more human.
Overall, Blair Witch has beautiful, detailed graphics. The environments, especially, are gorgeous. They also have a realistic look to them, which enhances the believability of this world. Moreover, the character designs are good, and character movement is fluid. From what I saw, it never really looked choppy. All this is impressive, especially for an indie game.
The game’s story is interesting enough, although it doesn’t do anything new. In contrast, it does an amazing job of including the typical Blair Witch lore. It incorporates the hallucinogenic and psychological aspects well; that sense of never quite knowing what’s real, and what’s not. It’s always been an important part of the legend. The Witch is portrayed as being able to psychologically influence humans.
I like that the game incorporates combat, even if it’s fairly simplistic. It’s still nice to have in a game that mostly consists of walking. Similarly, the camera mechanic is very cool and adds more layers of gameplay. It’s also quite unique. I’ve seen camera mechanics in other video games, but they weren’t like those of Blair Witch. Personally, I love that the present environment can be changed by watching tapes. I think this is a great mechanic, and it’s always satisfying to see the environment suddenly alter.
Even though I enjoy many parts of this game, Bullet is my absolute favorite aspect. Additionally, I like the mechanics surrounding him. Bullet is a truly endearing character. In fact, he’s one of my favorite animals in video games.
The canine is genuinely helpful, too; his mechanics are vital to moving the story along, and he helps to guide the player. And he almost seemed like a real dog to me. I adored being able to pet Bullet, and just have him along for the journey. The only downside is, I was almost constantly worried for Bullet’s safety. One of my biggest concerns was keeping him calm and safe.
Despite the many feats of Blair Witch, it does have a few significant flaws. As I stated earlier, the story was decent enough. But, I felt it was somewhat predictable, and that more could’ve been done with it. Especially considering the source material. I’d already guessed the big plot twist early on, and I wish it would have taken a more unique turn. I wanted to be proven wrong, but the ending I received, matched with my prediction.
Lore/Obscurity of Items & Puzzles
Personally, I thought the typical Blair Witch mythology was incorporated well. However, I wish there would’ve been more focus on the Witch itself. As far as I know, you never see the actual witch. It would have been neat to see it, even if for just a moment.
Another issue I had was how obscure the puzzles could be. There were times I wandered and wandered, not advancing the story whatsoever. I’d do this for a while, only to find out I missed a single key item in a random spot. This brings me to another point. Some key items were way too difficult to find. And the display indicator is quite small, so you have to be very close to an item for it to actually appear. This type of mechanic can easily lead to aimless wandering and frustration, just as it did with me.
Overly Long Sequences
And now, my biggest complaint of Blair Witch. There are several sequences that are far too long. For instance, the final house segment is quite cool, but too drawn out. About partway through, it started to wear on me. I quickly got tired of traversing the same environment, and of seeing similar things. In particular, I think this sequence could’ve been whittled down. Many others could have used the same treatment.
Honestly, I couldn’t help but feel the developer might’ve added in unnecessary content solely to pad for time. It’s like they were trying to make the game longer, so they over exaggerated certain sequences. I really think Blair Witch would’ve been best as a shorter, more concise experience.
Even though it’s too drawn out in places, and suffers from a predictable, lackluster plot, Blair Witch still manages to be a worthwhile video game. Due to the inclusion of much Witch lore, a lovable companion, and neat gameplay mechanics, the game is a solid indie horror title. In the end, I think Blair Witch deserves to be played, and it’s certainly a game most players will enjoy.
Official Blair Witch Presskit- https://blairwitchgame.com/presskit
Official Blair Witch Website- https://blairwitchgame.com/
Official Bloober Team Website- https://www.blooberteam.com/
Xbox One Store Page- https://bit.ly/2JAvSrI
PC/Steam Store Page- https://bit.ly/2Kq4zRp
All pictures were obtained from the official Blair Witch presskit. This was done with both the knowledge and permission of Bloober Team, the developer.