Review – Blair Witch
Polish studio Bloober Team is a curious case of a developer that decided to focus on one thing and one thing only: narrative-driven horror games. I’ve had a somewhat mixed history with their games, as I’ve never played anything from them that was just “okay”. It was either dreadful, like Layers of Fear, or surprisingly great, like Observer, one of the few games in which the Switch port ended up being the best of them all. Blair Witch is their newest project, a game based on the franchise’s universe as a whole, and not the movie in particular. In which end of the spectrum did this game end up on?
When I say that Bloober has specialized in “narrative-driven” games, I mean they’re good at making walking sims, with Observer being one of the best out there. Blair Witch is easily the meatier and more game-y of all of their games so far. Sure, you spend most of your time wandering aimlessly around the woods of Burkittsville, Maryland, but there’s more to it than just that. There are some puzzles in here, as well as brief instances of combat, surprisingly enough. There’s more going in here than the actual Blair Witch movie as, let’s be honest, absolutely nothing happens in it. That’s a damn boring movie. There, I said it.
Blair Witch, the game, takes place two years after the events of the original film. You’re Ellis Lynch, a former cop and army veteran who suffers from massive bouts of PTSD, who decides to join a search party for a missing boy named Peter. No reason is initially given as to why you’re doing this, but more happens later on. I’m not going to spoil the plot, which ended up being better written than expected. You’re not exactly armed to the teeth. All you have is a flashlight, a walkie talkie, a cellphone that you can actually play Snake on, a camcorder, some brain cells, and an adorable German Shepherd named Bullet.
Bullet is one of most unique aspects in the game. You can command him to search for items, as well as tracking new locations to explore after sniffing a key item. You can tell him to stay close to you, as not only he can help you out during combat sections, pointing you to the direction where the fast-moving enemies are, but he also helps you out by keeping you calm and sane. Think of him as a safe retreat, just like any dog in real life. And yes, you can pet the dog. I did that all the time, as Bullet is a good boy.
By far, the best gameplay feature in Blair Witch is the camcorder. This is no ordinary Outlast camera. In fact, you don’t film what’s going on around you like a dumb teenage protagonist from a horror movie. You mostly use the camcorder to play tapes scattered around the forest. Not only do those tapes provide you with information regarding the story, but they can also interfere with the world around you. These tapes allow you to rewind time in order to move or collect previously unobtainable objects you’ll need in order to progress with the plot.
I can safely say that there are lots of things I liked about the Blair Witch game, but sadly, it’s also filled with annoying design choices and technical hindrances. I can’t say any of them in particular irritated me to the point of becoming complete dealbreakers. However, there were a lot of smaller inconveniences that ended becoming a stinky pile of issues I certainly couldn’t overlook, just like Death Stranding before it.
One of my main gripes with Blair Witch is its visuals. While the graphics aren’t bad, as the lighting effects are good and the forest is beautiful to look at, it is a visually repetitive game. You’ll be constantly looking at bushes, trees and the like. Blair Witch might have one or two locales with some more varied designs, but I got fed up of wandering around forests with an inconsistent framerate pretty quickly. Speaking of wandering around…
Blair Witch‘s level design is just not good. I get it, you’re supposed to feel lost in a forest, but it’s really annoying to try to look for a specific location when the game asks you to, forcing you to basically walk around aimlessly, telling your dog to search for items every three feet, only to feel disappointed when he brings you used food wrapping. There is a lot of backtracking in here, making the aimless wandering feel even more annoying. Your main character’s slow movement only adds insult to injury.
In a year filled with great horror titles like Resident Evil 2, Moons of Madness, and The Beast Inside, Blair Witch ended up being just an okay addition to the list. It’s not fantastic, but it isn’t terrible either. It’s a fairly competent game with some excellent gameplay ideas that are hindered by technical issues and some poor design choices. With that being said, it is still much better than the insanely boring movie it was based off. Yes, I still stand by my opinion regarding that lame film.
There are some fantastic lighting effects in here and the forest itself is initially pleasing to the eyes, but the lack of environmental variety becomes noticeable pretty quickly. The game also suffers from an inconsistent framerate.
Some aspects of the gameplay are pretty neat. The camcorder puzzles and the reliance on your dog to manage your sanity and fetch items are great ideas. The bad movement, clunky camera controls, and complete lack of sense of direction, on the other hand, are not.
Like its Bloober Team predecessor, Blair Witch features some really impressive voice acting. There are some jump scares here and there. Some are good, some aren’t.
Fun Factor: 6.0
Everything that’s really good in this game, such as the camcorder puzzles and extra minigames, is equally hampered by something that infuriated me, such as the combat mechanics and the cumbersome movement.
Final Verdict: 6.5
Blair Witch is available now on PS4, Xbox One and PC.
Reviewed on PS4.
A copy of Blair Witch was provided by the publisher.