Blair Witch review — A case of Handycam horror

Blair Witch Function

I remember the revelation for the Blair Witch project at the Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3). As the dark scenes appeared on screen during the Xbox briefing, I couldn’t help but find myself intrigued. Moreso because I thought it might be a continuation of The Evil Within franchise. Then the title “Blair Witch” appeared on the screen, leaving many people, myself included, feeling confused.

I say “confusion” mainly because this was going to be yet another video game adaptation of a movie. And, while Hollywood and the video game industry attempt to marry film and gaming, the end result is often a disjointed effort.

Growing pains

Ellis is the main protagonist of the game. You are immediately introduced to some of his struggles with mental stability and dependence on his canine companion, Bullet. Early in the story, you discover that Ellis has volunteered to help find a missing child in the woods. And you can quickly start making guesses and guesses as to what this will mean for their relationship and their dynamic.

Blair Witch 1

During the game, you will have direct control over Bullet. You can make him fetch, make him stay, or even just pet his big German Shepherd ears and love him. Although it is one of the main mechanisms of Blair Witch, however, I never really felt it was part of the core experience. There are early warnings that Ellis’ mental state will become erratic if Bullet ventures too far. However, he never really started to deteriorate, even when Bullet ran off in different directions. That said, Bullet’s moans and barks are extremely authentic. I had to check several times to see if my own dogs weren’t crying.

Plot and interaction

The first thing that fascinated me with the direction of Blair Witch was his approach to the genre. At its core, the game is a walking simulation and psychological thriller. There’s no extensive exploration, crafting or even combat for that matter. However, developer Bloober Team manages to extract a lot of content and depth from the game’s atmosphere, even in relatively small places. There are object interactions that you’ll find littered throughout your time, also providing a platform to get to know Bullet better.

Apart from your pet, the game uses a camcorder to solve puzzles and make discoveries in the environment. This is done in a very linear fashion most of the time. For example, you might encounter a locked door. As you search the room, you may find a tape left on a table or shelf. Inserting the tape into your camcorder reveals past events when the door previously opened. Rewinding and pausing the camcorder on this screen magically unlocks and opens the door, allowing you to continue your search. This was cleverly introduced and executed throughout the story. It not only provided a callback to the movies, but it also made possible the idea that something could exist whether you saw it or not.

Exciting, relaxing and walking

As mentioned before, I never really felt that Hollywood and video games were one. There are often franchises that do very well in the digital space – yet when a movie is made from them, they can’t fill all the gaps that come with being derived from interactive media. This means that you find yourself sitting in a theater watching a story unfold instead of being in control of it when playing an actual video game. The feeling of Blair Witch found a nice groove, though, by taking source material and creating something that’s more than just an adaptation.

Blair with 2

Throughout the game there are moments of intrigue, leaps of fear, and an overwhelming sense of continuing to push for the truth. Is it all about Ellis real? Is it part of a series of flashbacks? Where did the missing child run away to? Most of them are depicted on screen with various sequences, without having to say them explicitly in the game’s dialogue. However, this sometimes creates more open instances.

Many questions begin to surface as you play. And, while it would be nice to wrap it all up, there continues to be this cycle of new questions being raised before others can even be answered. This is the case for most of the journey in Blair Witch. But, again, the film franchise also plays to the same formula of psychological thriller, mystery, and jump scare. At first glance, this might seem like something that could cause a heavy case of frustration – and, admittedly, sometimes it does. However, something about it also pulled me inside and made me insist on finding out the truth – if there was even one.

Dizzy on the comedown

One of the biggest fights I’ve had with Blair Witch was in its design and some of its mechanisms. The experience is done in a first-person view, often giving off Resident Evil 7 vibes. The biggest difference, however, was in how certain scenes were executed.

Blair Witch 3

By default, Blair Witch is a relatively dark game. Most scenes are pitch black, with only a faint beam of light cast by your flashlight. In tight spaces, navigating some of these environments in the dark was tedious and often left me dizzy. It got so bad that I had to walk away from the game several times after feeling nauseous. This is not necessarily a review of the game per se. However, if you’re planning on jumping into the experience, be prepared for some close jumps and repeated visits to the same area over and over again.

Final Thoughts

Admittedly, I was surprised in more ways than one by Blair Witch. Bloober Team managed to put together a clever take on the psychological thriller genre. Additionally, the game mechanics, while at times superficial and lacking a full commitment to their design, provide long gameplay and surprises throughout the game.

After completing the Blair Witch, I can say that I have more questions than answers. But, given the time of year it’s released, it’s probably something worth playing a second time around. The game isn’t extremely long, at around five hours in length. But it is a rather short and digestible experience. I only wish it ended with a more concrete experience rather than leaving me with a basket full of questions and nowhere to take them. Maybe I’ll just throw them in the woods and hope for the best.

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