Blair Witch is the new and ambitious horror survival title from Bloober Team, the minds behind Layers of Fear. Do they deliver the scares, jumps, and give us an adventure we deserve or is this merely a troubled love-letter to the cult classic series? Find out in our review of Blair Witch.
+Sticks true to the lore established by The Blair Witch Project
+Audiovisual designs are some of the best on the market
+Controls are easy to learn and rather intuitive
+Puzzles offer just enough difficulty to keep players guessing and invested
-Performance is rather lacking on an Xbox One standard
-Tutorials are limited and may not teach the player everything they need to know
I remember the first time I watched The Blair Witch Project with my brother on our family room couch. We were eating Hideaway Pizza, laughing about how corny the movie actually looked based on the trailers we had seen. While my brother and I seldom watched movies together, we still watched a few of them together, even chuckled as we did.
After a good forty-five minutes in, that had all changed as the movie began to build-up to what it would have to offer: An unforgettable experience, one that actually terrified us as kids, and left us unsure if we ever wanted to enter a forest ever again – at least for me more-so than him. But since then, The Blair Witch Project left a major impact on the entertainment industry.
It created a simple type of film, the found-footage genre, which came to life in more ways than one, which even included a brand-new atmosphere featuring the ability to survive and horrify those that player or watched a game or move of their choice. Now, here we are, three movies, and twenty years later, once more stepping into the morbidly fascinating series, one where the lore of the Blair Witch herself is back and the game itself having been developed by the imaginative and horrifyingly talented team at Bloober Team (Layers of Fear).
The Setting and the tone was done rather well for Blair Witch
Set two years after the events of The Blair Witch Project, Bloober Team takes their very own approach to the well-established universe, giving players a chance to explore the world in the first-person perspective. Our adventure unwinded as former law enforcement officer by the name of Ellis as he attempts to head into the Black Hills Forest only accompanied by his canine companion Bullet
The reason behind his time there comes out of one of justified importance as he sets out to help find a missing child that had been taken deep into the forests themselves. However, the boy isn’t all that goes missing, nor is he the only one affected by having entered the forest itself.
In good ol’ series fashion, Ellis finds that Bullet and himself have fallen victim to the forest’s curse, both of them stuck in a horror story of their own where you’ll learn more about Ellis and his hardships, the importance of his canine companion, and even just how far the witch’s curse actually goes.
Luckily for us, it works, and the influences from Layers of Fear become quite clear as the game begins to unfold before us. Each incident helping to drive the overall narrative even play into the overall experience itself, making it something a bit more trippy and horrifying than we’ve ever experienced in the genre before.
The uneasiness will set in sooner than later
Unlike most games in the genre, Blair Witch doesn’t hold back from using its atmosphere to its advantage. More-often-than-not, you’ll find yourself utilizing Bullet to help you seek out where to go, find clues, and even point out where deadly dangers are. However, these aren’t just minor gimmicks, they’re a core element of the adventure itself.
Bullet is an integral part of the overall experience, serving as Ellis’ peace of mind, one that he needs or his anxiety kicks-in, making it hard to control him before he hits the ground and begins blacking out. To ensure that Bullet can be found at any given time, allowing for players to control him. Options such as seek for clues, pet him, stay close, and heel are all viable options, and I highly – highly recommend you pet him over reprimanding.
Unlike previous games where a guided canine can feel more like a hassle than a help, Bullet is an exception to that rule. The bond between man and its best friend are quite clear here and made a technical aspect of the game. Bullet isn’t just some form of narrative drive, but also what makes Ellis more believable than most relationships we do see in games today.
Blair Witch does suffer from a few minor issues
While Blair Witch is as haunting as it is beautiful, the game itself doesn’t seem to overcome the ability to perform well on older hardware. I found my level of immersion getting pulled away when framerate issues would hit the game, often times hitting at some of the worst moments that they could, which include moments of using your torch (flashlight) to scare off the threats that lurk about in the darkness of the woods.
While Bullet will help you out to the best of his ability, the potentency of this one experience does often find itself in trouble, giving you a bit to worry about for those not using a PC or an Xbox One X. While there is no doubt of an optimization patch in the works at this point, it doesn’t help the fact the problem is here, and it’s here now.
That aside, there are few minor bugs, which can sometimes include Ellis getting stuck on rocks, sticks, and even logs, making traversal hard from time to time, but it can also be hard to not have hints on what to do next, where to do it, or how.
Bugs aside, Blair Witch stays true to its predecessors and doesn’t deviate
One of the strongest elements of Blair Witch is its audiovisual designs, which coupled with gameplay elements, make the game a rather potent horror experience for fans of the series. One of the largest and most welcomed aspects, is the sound effects from the movies, as well as some of the visual designs, don’t change what-so-ever, and they feel as if they were ripped right from the films.
As you wander through the Black Hills Forest, you won’t be mistaken that this game is a passion project, and it was designed as an interactive film where you are in the shoes of that of whom is being hunted, literally, being hunted. Even when being stalked in the woods, don’t be surprised when Bullet begins to growl, warning you of where enemies are lying in wait for you, each one waiting for its chance to rip your sanity apart.
Even as you revisit an area you’ve been to before, don’t be surprised when you feel as if you’ve been walking in circles, questioning the direction you too, why the path behind you has changed, or why Bullet is suddenly alert in some direction other than where you are – it’s what is keeping you alive.
Blair Witch’s overall design is absolutely fantastic
One of the best design elements comes in the shape of puzzles. Puzzles, while they seem easy, aren’t by any means of the word “aren’t”. They are troubling, each of them requiring knowledge of events both past and present. Some will require Ellis – you – to watch the footage from tapes Bullet or yourself have found. Each one will have a clue of sorts, which should in many ways, clue you in on what to do, where to go, and how to go about your adventure.
This very element isn’t just a small nod to the films that Blair Witch is based-upon: It’s a unique and rather innovative way to explore puzzles to their fullest. While some may see this feature as easy to do, it’s not always easy, and it will leave you guessing from time to time.
Alongside a few of the puzzles, Blair Witch doesn’t keep from taking the chance to give a generous nod to its past elements. Players will encounter photos that resemble events from the past movies, you will find symbols of the witch strewn about, and you’ll even find yourself in several familiar settings while you attempt to answer the phone, us your radio, and even pay attention to what is unfolding before your eyes, even as you begin to question the scope of the situation itself.
One of the best designs in the game is one you won’t see often, to some, you may get tired of staring at the trees as you look about. You’re in the exact location from the very first movie, you’ll pass by it a few times, clear down to the teeth strewn about the forest floor, a few creatures that resemble what you think you heard or you thought you might have seen. Even some of the original set pieces seemed to have made it in the game, but only in passing.
Blair Witch is a beautiful, but potent experience, but it suffers – The Conclusion
As we come to the end of this review for Blair Witch, it’s hard for me not to look past the frame rate issues, the stumbling around the woods when the answers to the puzzles are right at the tips of your fingers had it only been made a little better known. While the game is daring, true to what it is inspired by, it does almost fall slightly short of being an absolute masterpiece.
Platforms: PC and Xbox One
Version Reviewed: Xbox One
Developer: Bloober Team
Publisher: Bloober Team
Release Date: Available Now
Even with that said, Bloober Team has once again delivered, giving us one of the strongest games in the genre, and one that could have very well been the inspiration for an upcoming film. While framerate hiccups, moments where Bullet’s hard to follow, and story moments that make you scratch your head, Blair Witch is fantastic and easily one of my favorite games within the horror-survival genre.
Our review is based upon a retail version that was provided to us by the publisher of the game. For information about our ethics policy please click here.
About the Writer(s):
Dustin is our native console gamer, PlayStation and Nintendo reviewer who has an appetite for anything that crosses the borders from across the big pond. His interest in JRPG’s, Anime, Handheld Gaming, and Pizza is insatiable. His elitist attitude gives him direction, want, and a need for the hardest difficulties in games, which is fun to watch, and hilarity at its finest. You can find him over on Twitter or Facebook.