So there’s a new Blair Witch game out. It’s from Polish developers Bloober Team. Not their first foray into the horror game genre as they also had a pretty decent hit with Layers of Fear in 2016 and it’s sequel earlier this year. They were also the same team behind the very overlooked Observer from 2017.
There is one thing all of the above games share in common, the emphasis on psychological horror. So Bloober Team seem to be the perfect developers to make a game set in the Blair Witch universe. Now I’ve never been a fan of the franchise, I thought the first film was utter crap. I was aware of it’s sequel, Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2 and I watched it… it too was utter crap. I thought that was it for the franchise. Then after playing the game, I thought I’d look into everything Blair Witch and bloody hell, there’s even more utter crap. There are comic books, novels, real and faux documentaries and even other video games that I didn’t know exited other than this one. Even more so… there was another official Blair Witch flick released in 2016 that is a direct sequel to the original and only after playing the game and researching the franchise did I learn that the game is set between the original and the 2016 films. Oh and yes I thought I’d best sit down to watch the film just so I have seen all three of them… and yes, it’s utter crap too. There’s even a T.V. show in the works. I just don’t understand how something so utter crap can be so popular. Mind you, Justin Bieber exists…
Anywhoo, the point is that I really fail to see the appeal of the franchise as everything I’ve experienced with it has been utter crap. Still, I do love me some horror gaming. I enjoyed Bloober Team’s Layers of Fear for what it was and I did start playing Observer and really bloody enjoyed it too, then I got distracted by another thing I’m doing and forgot to get back into it, will do that sometime and see the game through to the end. There’s a lot to appreciate with Team Bloober’s games, they do handle the horror sub-genre really well. Which leads me to Blair Witch (the game not the film). I did approach this one with some trepidation, as I said, I’m not a fan of the films nor the franchise as a whole. But I have enjoyed other titles from the same developers, so I went into this one with an open mind and hoping to really enjoy it.
First I’ll quickly cover the plot.
Set in 199something (I lost interest), you play as Ellis. An ex-soldier and former cop who unofficially joins the search for a missing boy in the famed Black Hills Forest… and that’s about it. You’re looking for a missing boy. Now, I guess there is a bit more to the plot going on in the background, such as Ellis’ PTSD… which makes up for most of the blindingly obvious scares in the game. Ellis is joined by his trusty dog Bullet, who is both the best and worst thing about the game. So you and Bullet go in search of the missing boy and along the way, that darn PTSD mixed with the strange shenanigans of the titular Blair Witch herself sends poor Ellis down a spiral of insanity. Can you find and save the missing boy before you go bat-shit?
Overall, I just found the game boring. But before I get into that, there are a few elements I enjoyed. I liked the 199something setting as it lends way to some nice retro restrictions that work. For example, Ellis has an old mobile Nokia-like phone which does come into play through the game from receiving texts and calls to even being able to customise the ring tone and screen saver… oh and you can even play classic games on it too. Remember Snake? Yes you can play it on the in game phone, which is just as well as it’s better than Blair Witch.
For the most part, your trusty canine is fun too. You can send him to look for clues, he will (literally) sniff out a path for you to follow, you can praise or scold him… not that it makes any difference to the game itself mind you. He’s a fun little companion. But remember how I said Bullet is both the best and worst part of the game? Well he is. Yeah he’s cute and yeah he’s helpful… but his AI is atrocious. There’s no real combat in the game, but you do occasionally encounter these spindly woodland monsters that you have to defeat by shining a torch at them. This is where Bullet is supposed to come into power has he sniffs out the hard to spot and super fast meanies and points you in the direction they are coming from for you to zap them with the light before they can hit you. That is what he’s supposed to do, but most of the time he runs around aimlessly and by the time he settles down to point out where the forest monster is, it’s already hit you. I even had one point in the game where Bullet just ran around a signpost while I got slaughtered by the undetectable bastards. Fuck that dog.
For the most part of the game, you just walk around the woods and get poorly thought out and obvious jump scares… just like the film then. There’s some well integrated use of a camcorder (remember those kids?) as you find special tapes you can play and manipulate your surroundings with if you rewind and pause the tapes at the right time. Example: there’s a locked door you can’t open, you find one of these tapes that shows someone unlocking and opening the door. You go back to where the door was, play the tape to the point the door is opened, pause the tape and the door will be open in your game. It’s a nice idea… but that’s it, it’s one puzzle that keeps popping up over and over in the game. The exact same puzzle solved the exact same way just with a slightly different hat. Oh look a tree has fallen and is blocking your path, oh look a tape that shows said tree falling down. Oh look, some rubble blocking a doorway, oh look a tape showing the rubble fall. Oh look…
Blair Witch also suffers from some serious technical issues too. I played it on my Xbox One X… “the world’s most powerful console” as Microsoft like to brag. Even so, I kept encountering slowdown and terrible pop-up scenery along with numerous other bugs and glitches. I can play Red Dead Redemption II with it’s huge and sprawling open world, gorgeous scenery and dozens of on screen characters going about their daily lives no problem… but Blair Witch with it’s single character (for the most part) and a dog in a very restrictive forest area with little to no variation and mostly in the dark… that’s a struggle to run is it? Yeah, yeah I know that Bloober Team are not as big and don’t have the resources that Rockstar Games have… but Blair Witch is not a big or expansive game in comparison.
Even outside of the technical issues (I had Bullet trapped in a wall at one point), it’s just not a very good game… it’s dull. The scares are way too obvious and telegraphed leaving no surprise. I mean the main guy has PTSD from his soldering days… I don’t need to carry on here do I? Whatever scares you have in mind right now, they are in the game (flashbacks to his soldier days, check. Suggestion he killed his comrades, check. Jump scareds of being shot at, check…) It’s just too obvious. The continual walking around the forest gets tedious quick as the same jump scares pop up. You’ve seen it all before. The game claims to to track your behaviour in order to learn what scares you and use that to frighten the player… I didn’t experience any of that during my play through, I just kept getting the same and easy to see from a mile off jump scares. It got to a point where it just stopped being scary, that’s if Blair Witch could even be considered ‘scary’ to begin with (it’s not).
You want to see PTSD done well in a game? Go play Spec Ops: The Line. I wasn’t a big fan of the game itself, but the way they depicted PTSD was amazing. Subtlety and creativity are the key, not jump scares.
This could’ve been great, it could’ve been genuinely scary and got into the players head if it had been more cerebral. But it just doesn’t bother. Instead it relies on horror game and movie cliches that you’ve seen over and over and over again.
Now to be fair, the game does get very slightly interesting in the final act when you finally find the house where the not at all scary Blair Witch lives. The game gets really creative with it’s engine and use of the camcorder. Quite honestly, it’s great… but it goes and ruins the whole atmosphere by just needlessly dragging it out for too long. You get the same asinine puzzles again, the same jump scares again, the same shit over and over. At first, it’s like a breath of fresh air after all that traipsing around in a dark forest, it’s nice to see something ‘different’. The finale should have lasted 15 minutes or so, but it goes on and on for an hour, maybe longer. At that point, you just want the damn game to end before you fall asleep.
It’s not even a big game with a 4, maybe 5 hour playtime from start to end. There are multiple endings but to be honest, after a single play through, I have no intention of going back to find the other endings. There is little point in multiple endings when the game is so boring the first time.
I really wanted to like this despite not being s fan of the franchise. I really wanted a good and scary horror game. I set the right environment too. Played it alone, in the dark, late at night and wearing headphones. But it’s just too damn dull to be scary. I’m going back to Bloober Team’s Observer.