Review – Blair Witch: VR Edition
Bloober Team took the popular film franchise spawned from The Blair Witch Project and used its lore and setting to create Blair Witch, a survival horror game back in 2019. It gained mostly favorable reviews from critics, although the user reviews were somewhat mixed, either praising its atmosphere or condemning it for being boring. Now it has been adapted for VR with the Blair Witch: VR Edition, giving players a chance to feel like they’re actually navigating the haunted woods of Burkittsville, Maryland. Does this version nail the immersion they were striving for or is it a meandering mess?
The game takes place two years after the events of The Blair Witch Project. You play as Ellis Lynch, a veteran and former police officer who suffers from PTSD. He decides to search the Black Hills forests for a missing boy named Peter, although his reason for doing so isn’t made clear at first. More about his past and motivations are revealed along the journey. Joined by his trusty canine companion, Bullet, Ellis plunges into the heart of the forest and into the lair of the Blair Witch.
As far as the gameplay goes, you’ll mainly be walking around, searching for clues about Peter’s whereabouts. Bullet is a key element of the gameplay, as Ellis can instruct him to seek out items of interest, access areas that are too small or difficult for Ellis to reach, give warnings about the direction of potential dangers, find the correct paths to follow, and keep Ellis’ psychological state from getting out of control. Ellis can interact with him by using a dog whistle to have him seek items, stay close, stay put, and give him treats. You can actually pet him in Blair Witch: VR Edition as well! The ending of the game will change depending on your relationship with Bullet, so be sure to give him lots of love for being the good boy he is.
The controls themselves work well enough, I suppose. Although, they can feel a bit clunky while trying to remember which buttons to use while navigating the various devices, such as the phone and camcorder. Many times I would be trying to rewind a tape or scroll through the phone only to hit the wrong button and close it out. Luckily, the actual act of holding the camcorder while watching the environments morph with the video tape remains the most interesting and immersive part of Blair Witch: VR Edition.
The general controls are your standard movement for PSVR; using the face buttons to strafe, turn, and move forward while you use your head to look around. Blair Witch: VR Edition does offer plenty of options to combat motion sickness, which is very much appreciated. Degree-based turning, fading edges, and teleport moving are all options to customize your comfort level. I was using full locomotion with smooth turning, no assisted comfort settings and I didn’t have any issues with motion sickness. This is likely due to the rock solid framerate that the game features, unfortunately this comes at a heavy expense to the visuals.
The original version of Blair Witch was never a great looking game to begin with. However, in Blair Witch: VR Edition, the graphics have been stripped down even further in order to achieve that stable framerate. Right away you’ll notice that the forests of Burkittsville are filled with nothing more than sparse grass and nearly barren trees. That would be fine if the game were set during the winter time, but it isn’t.
At first I thought there was a weird fog covering the sky, perhaps symbolizing you being now trapped and contained within the witch’s magic. That turned out not to be the case, as I had simply been seeing an empty sky because the rest of the trees hadn’t loaded in yet. The pop-ins are horrible and even some of the textures won’t load in for a while. This seems too high a price to pay for a stable framerate, but unfortunately it’s necessary since the PSVR’s hardware is becoming antiquated. I will say that at least the dog, Bullet, looks pretty good, although he has been redesigned to have a sleeker coat, which I’m assuming is also due to the graphical cutbacks. Bullet is without a doubt the best part of this game, as long as he doesn’t glitch out and stop moving. Which he did a couple times during my playthrough.
I will give credit to Blair Witch: VR Edition‘s sound design though. The voice acting is pretty decent from just about everyone. There isn’t much of a soundtrack, only subtle tunes playing in flashbacks sequences, for the most part. The biggest highlight is the ambient sounds of the forest, which do add to the immersion of being lost in the woods. Bullet’s barks, whimpers, panting, and whines are very convincing as well, which is important since he’s such an integral part of the game.
I’m fairly disappointed Blair Witch: VR Edition. Yes, it is definitely more immersive than Blair Witch, but a lot of that immersion is frequently broken by the horrendous pop-ins, clunky controls, and ridiculously short chapters. Regardless of playing it on hardware that is definitely showing its age, that still doesn’t stop the game from being boring most of the time. Bloober Team is usually great at creating a spooky atmosphere and building tension, but Blair Witch: VR Edition just didn’t grab me like Observer: System Redux or The Medium did. Now, if they ever decide to convert one of those games into a VR experience, I’ll be the first in line for it.
The graphics have been massively stripped down in order to achieve a stable framerate. Bullet looks great though.
The controls work fine enough, but they can feel awkward and clunky when you have to try to grab something like your phone, dog whistle, or camcorder. Fortunately, the parts with the camcorder are still enjoyable and clever.
Easily the strongest department of the game. The vocal performances are solid and the ambient sounds are convincing and add to the immersion.
Fun Factor: 6.5
The idea of solving a mystery while wandering through the Black Hills forest in VR seems great, but the experience is greatly hampered by its pop-ins, short chapter lengths, and overall tedious gameplay.
Final Verdict: 6.5
Blair Witch: VR Edition is available now on PSVR, Oculus Quest, and Oculus Rift.
Reviewed on PSVR.
A copy of Blair Witch: VR Edition was provided by the publisher.