When The Blair Witch Project came out in 1999, it was a big middle finger to everything Hollywood was about: no loud jumpscares, no fancy special effects, no larger than life characters, none of that. It was just a faux documentary about a group of students who get lost in the woods and are never seen again. Sure, nowadays the movie is routinely the target of mockery and parody, but back in the day it was something completely different. And people believed it was real too. The creators of the movie went as far as to create fake missing persons posters for the cast. Regardless of your feelings on it, The Blair Witch Project gave birth to a new genre of movies: found footage.
Fast-forward two decades, and after a couple lackluster movie sequels (one that came out a few years after the first and another that came out just three years ago) the Blair Witch name isn’t one people flock to anymore. Now, in what seems like something that should have happened ages ago, we have a video game based on the Blair Witch franchise. But the question is, is it good? Does it live up to the Blair Witch name? Well, like most things in life, the answer is not a simple one.
Let’s start with what Blair Witch gets right: the atmosphere. From the outset, you can feel the isolation and the tension as you and your dog enter the woods in search of a missing kid. The game manages to tie in with the franchise right at the start with a couple of references to the missing students from the original film. But this game takes place in the 1990’s still, and at the time it takes place the footage of the students has yet to be found (remember that in the first movie the students disappear and the footage isn’t found until years later).
Things start going wrong quickly (in a good way). You find yourself lost in the woods, end up at a mysterious campsite, and find a video camera whose tapes allow you to literally manipulate objects in time. This is a very cool idea, but I found it really odd and kinda funny how the game addresses this. Instead of letting you discover that power on your own, the game literally throws up a screen that just says deadpan “the red tapes allow you to manipulate reality”.
All silliness aside, I liked this mechanic. I wish it had been used a little bit more (it pops up a decent amount of times in the first half of the game, but takes a backseat by the end), but I thought it was an inventive angle on the mysterious nature of the Black Hills Forest.
(Note: I did have a strange glitch with the video tapes where they wouldn’t play properly until I rewound them and then they would play normally. I’m not sure why this is, it may have had something to do with my graphics settings but I cannot be sure. Something I thought was worth noting.)
As for the story, the premise is simple: you play as Ellis, a former police officer who joins the search for a missing boy named Peter. Right from the get go, there are hints about Ellis having mental problems, which factors heavily into the game. It’s never stated outright, but it’s pretty obvious Ellis suffers from some form of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), and his memories of combat and one event in particular keep surfacing as the woods seem to taunt and torment him. It’s a great evolution of the Blair Witch style of psychological horror, and it’s a damn sight better than the 2016 movie.
I swear, the people behind that movie were probably saying to themselves “so this movie is known for being the anti-Hollywood movie…what can we do to evolve this idea? Hmmm…oh I know! Loud noises and obnoxious jumpscares! Everyone loves those! Right?”
There’s nothing more immersion shattering than a movie that tries to artificially scare you with a sudden cut to a loud nightclub scene. I wish I was joking.
In any case, Blair Witch the game seems to understand the more psychological nature of the franchise. But I almost feel like it goes too far with this. At some points, it stops feeling like a Blair Witch game and more like the developer’s previous games, namely Layers of Fear and Observer to name a couple. By the end of its four to five hour playtime, you’ve spent so much time exploring the repressed memories of Ellis’ psyche that you almost forget that there is a Blair Witch or any outside force acting on the character. To give credit, it’s very well done, but it sometimes fails to feel very Blair Witch-esque.
This is especially true during the game’s last act, as you enter the infamous abandoned house that serves as the climax to both the original film and the 2016 sequel. You spend a rather long amount of time wandering through shifting corridors, having ghostly voices and flashbacks to Ellis’ past. Again, this is not a bad thing at all, but I feel like they should have pulled back on it a little bit and focused some more on the “being lost in the woods” aspect. That’s what Blair Witch is to me: being lost in the woods and then spooky noises. Not wandering through a shifting house facing your inner demons for nearly an hour.
Which brings me to my next caveat with the game: its pacing. Now, for the most part the pacing is good. It keeps you moving from place to place, and is generally adept at keeping you on edge. However, there are a couple of spots where the pacing falls a little flat. The aforementioned wandering around the house is one such spot. There’s just so much time spent wandering through that shifting house, and it all feels like it’s building up to some huge, intense climax. But no, it just kinda ends as you get to the basement, and then shortly after you get one of the endings to the game (there are multiple endings by the way).
But there’s another area where the pacing leaves something to be desired. In this section you find yourself traversing an abandoned lumber camp. And it’s here that the game commits one of gaming’s most annoying sins: padding.
The lumber camp sections serves no other purpose other than to make you run around, collect a few objects, then power up a machine to lift a log that’s blocking your path. I’m serious. That’s all that happens in this section. It’s literally just a pointless obstacle gating off the next section of story. And the tape mechanic is only used at the END of the section. The rest of it is literally just riding a rail cart around to different spots, collecting important items, and placing them on the machine. There is a short enemy encounter in the middle, but that’s about it.
Speaking of which, the enemies are actually pretty well done. The game doesn’t let you get a good look at them at any point, and later sections have you relying on your camera to see where they are, which only gives you a red silhouette of the creature. That, and their twitchy nature and movement just adds to the creep factor. I do wish there was more than just one enemy type, but for what is there, it’s well done.
I feel like that’s the name of the game when it comes to Blair Witch: it’s well-done, but flawed at times. It does a great job with atmosphere, but occasionally falls flat in pacing. It initially does a great job feeling like a Blair Witch game, but sometimes becomes too engrossed in its own brand of horror. If you’re a fan of horror, I’d say it’s worth a look. There are far less competent games out there that rely on little more than cheap tricks. Blair Witch at least has substance to it, even if it stumbles from time to time.
Thanks for reading! Check back next Thursday for a special post, and have a great Halloween!