I can still remember the hot summer day of July 30th, 1999, when I sat in a darkened theater to experience the original Blair Witch Project. I loved the low budget camcorder feel of the found footage film and felt that it heightened my fear and immersion. I had been exposed to found footage films by being an Italian horror film junkie and watching what many consider to be the grandfather of all found footage films, Cannibal Holocaust. I was looking forward to seeing the American take on a group of filmmakers getting lost and leaving behind them clues in the form of videotapes and film reels. The experience was like catnip for a horror fan. I rolled around in it and dug up every piece of information and lore I could find. Thankfully the filmmakers in one of the greatest marketing campaigns of all time offered a cornucopia of things to delve into. It was a groundbreaking film in many ways.
Fast forward 20 years and the Bloober Team which has made some wonderfully frightening games with Layers of Fear 1 and 2 along with Lion’s Gate Games release Blair Witch on PC and Xbox One.
In Blair Witch, you are not a ragtag group of young filmmakers looking to uncover a mystery based on the folklore of Burkittsville, Maryland. You play a police officer named Ellis who is coming off a suspension and goes into the woods to assist his colleagues in the search for a lost boy. You are not alone as you have your trusty German Sheppard, Bullet, to assist you in the search. The game dynamics of using Bullet is very good. The dog can search for clues and even bring them to you, which comes in handy when you cannot get into a small or tight place. This is not the first game to include a pet canine but it may be where a dog is best implemented.
Sound is crucial in Blair Witch to get a sense of direction. That being said, the sound design of the game is phenomenal. Every twig snap and dog bark is beautifully rendered. Headphones are a must for getting the truly immersive experience out of Blair Witch. I used my previously reviewed HyperX Cloud Mix headset and it worked beautifully! Spatial sound plays a huge role in Blair Witch so keep that in mind if you are just using standard speakers.
The look of this game is wonderfully creepy and may drive the HDR on your television or monitor to the edge of its capacity. I did have a bit of difficulty getting the resolution on my PC monitor to work smoothly. I was bouncing back and forth between my XBOX One and PC depending on where I was situated. There was no problem at all having up-to-date saves, but I wonder if that is what created my resolution issue. At one point I had a complete crash of the Unreal Engine which left me scratching my head. Otherwise, it looks great. The woods are creepy and well designed and you get the feel of the films translated well.
Blair Witch offers a gameplay style which is definitely uncommon. Your right and left bumpers bring up two different wheels to manipulate. The right bumper brings up your flashlight, backpack, walkie talkie, cell phone, and camera. The left bumper brings up your dog commands like return, search, pet, and chastise. This can be a bit cumbersome sometimes when you are holding a flashlight and going for your phone or walkie talkie as well as calling your dog. But it is pretty cool that it is possible to attempt all three. As far as combat goes… there is no combat. The closest thing you do to combat or defense is using your flashlight to ward off forest spirits or demons? This is not made very clear. One thing that is very clear is that if you do not scare them off you will die.
Your camera also plays a huge role in the game. It is essential to find red labeled DV tapes while playing the game. By watching the tapes you can manipulate things such as doors and items that appear in the world. Without solving these problems you cannot advance in the game so prepare to do some viewing.
The game is set two years after the original film’s story which places it in 1996. As previously stated you play the role of Ellis, a police officer and military veteran who is apparently suffering from severe post-traumatic stress disorder. Ellis is also going through a very difficult break-up and gets several calls and messages from his ex. The PTSD plays an enormous role in the game, perhaps even more than the lore of the Blair Witch. It made it feel that it was a previously designed game that had Blair Witch elements shoehorned into it. That being said, it is a very compelling story and very scary. As an Iraq veteran myself, it was very creepy. Ellis is constantly bouncing back and forth between the Blair Witch world and PTSD world, so stay focused. In the interest of spoilers, I will stop here as far as the story goes.
Blair Witch can be a very scary and intense but short (6 hours) game. It looks and sounds great. Even though I wanted more Blair Witch, this was adequate. As parents, let me warn you that the game can be very gory and scary at times, so perhaps it is best for your older teens and above. The game’s price reflects its playtime by coming in at an affordable $29.99 on PC and the same for Xbox One. But here is the good news: if you already subscribe to Xbox Game Pass, you already own the game and can download it ASAP. As a Gamepass game, it has tremendous value and may be the perfect fall pre-Halloween game.