Lost in the Woods
20 years, guys! It’s been 20 years since the film The Blair Witch Project scared, entertained, and confused moviegoers around the world. Was it real? Are these actors? Why does this girl have so much snot running out of her nose? All of these questions were asked at a time when social media was in its infancy. Nobody knew the answers to these questions because we only had our, and our friends’ imaginations to go on. Sure, you could hop on AOL ( The America Online internet service for you youngins’) and probably find the answers, but that wasn’t an easy task, and you’d have to get your parents’ permission to tie up the phone line.
So, here we are 20 years later…and 20 years smarter. The Blair Witch Project was proven to be simply a low budget horror film made to look like a real documentary. The magic was gone, and shitty sequels, comic books, and video games were made. Unfortunately, none of these mediums could hold a candle to the original. So the horror lovers at Bloober Team (makers of Layers of Fear) have decided that now is a good time to head back into Burkittsville to try to recapture the magic and suspense of the original film.
Do I Scare You?
Blair Witch takes place in the year 1996, 3 years before the film. A local boy has gone missing in the woods in the Burkittsville area and a search team lead by the local sheriff has been sent in to find him. The player controls a man named Ellis, who used to be on the police force but has since been relieved of his duties due to a costly wrong decision he made while on the job. Ellis has a troubled past and suffers some severe bouts of PTSD, but he has found comfort in his support dog, Bullet, who was given to him by the local sheriff. Since Ellis arrives at the search later than the others, he ventures into the woods by himself, which probably isn’t a good idea.
Ellis is controlled while in the first person view. Other than using the left analog stick to walk Ellis around, the player can issue a wide array of commands to him via a wheel that is accessed by holding the Right Bumper button. These commands include using a phone, holding a flashlight, giving treats to bullet, using a camera, or radioing the sheriff (once the walkie talkie is acquired). A 2nd choice wheel that contains commands to give to Bullet will appear while holding the Left Bumper button. Due to the large amount of choices given to the player, it would have been more convenient to set certain actions to hot keys. But at the time of this review, none of the controls can be changed to suit the player, which will be a bummer to most.
Early on in Ellis’s journey into the dangerous woods of Burkittsville, he starts to suffer severely from PTSD, so much so that he passes out. Thankfully, his trusty dog Bullet stays by his side until he wakes up. After wiping the grogginess away, Ellis quickly notices that numerous things are different in these woods versus the woods he ventured into to find the missing child. This new landscape is filled with trenches, underground bunkers, disabled vehicles overgrown with vines, and a large white tree that looks as if it’s bleeding.
For some reason Ellis decided not to bring a compass on this search (duh), so from this point on the player is left walking around in circles wondering what to do and where to go next. Giving Bullet the “seek” command will sometimes help in these confusing situations, but if Bullet has already found a clue in the area, he’ll just walk around and whimper. A good chunk of my time playing Blair Witch was spent scratching my head while looking for landmarks. If it wasn’t for Bullet, I don’t think I’d ever make it out of the woods.
It’s a Mystery!
One of Ellis’s weapons at his disposal is his camcorder. The person that may be the boy’s kidnapper has conveniently placed video tapes throughout the woods, and watching said tapes with Ellis’s camcorder inexplicably changes the environment, sometimes right before the player’s eyes. A tree blocking your way? I can guarantee that one of the videos that you just found includes footage of that same tree falling down. So, just rewind the tape to the point that the tree is standing, and voilà, your path is clear. It’s an interesting concept that works really well, but it’s magical properties are never actually explained, and this leaves the player wondering why this mysterious camcorder does what it does.
Since this is a Blair Witch game, there is some form of mystical evil in these woods, so on occasion Ellis will have to stop his search and fight. This thing is afraid of light, meaning Ellis must shine his flashlight toward it to scare it off. Since this creature is both fast and incredibly hard to see, the player must rely on Bullet’s bark and the direction the dog is facing to know where and when to shine the flashlight. These encounters sound exciting, but they are overall boring and underscore how unpolished Blair Witch can be. During these fights, Ellis will get lodged between a rock and a tree, or Bullet will get stuck staring at an object and not be able to turn around. This happened to me during almost every brush with this entity, and the only solution was to let the creature kill me off, which in turn resets Ellis and Bullet.
Thankfully, walking around the woods is only half of the Blair Witch experience, as the second half of the game really shines. This is when the player is taken out of the woods and thrown into one of the creepiest houses that I’d ever have the pleasure of digitally exploring. This house feeds on Ellis’s fears and seems to trigger his PTSD on command. Just when Ellis thinks he in control, Bloober Team does what they do best and completely shifts the house around. This can happen when Ellis is looking the other way, or sometimes right in front of his eyes. It’s a really unnerving experience. Bloober Team has been utilizing this scare tactic since Layers of Fear, and it’s at its best in Blair Witch.
A Lovely Stroll Through the Woods
Which brings me to the audio and visuals. Blair Witch looks and sounds stunning! Well, that is when there is something to look at besides trees. The crunch of twigs beneath Ellis’s feet made me feel like I was actually trekking through the woods, and hearing a snapping twig behind me was extremely unsettling. Seeing a large saw mill in the middle of the foggy forest off in the distance is plain creepy and gives off a “what the hell is waiting for me in that building?” vibe. If I were to complain about one thing, it would be Bullet’s whine. It seems he only has one audio recording, and it gets very repetitive. It’s always followed by him licking his chops, which gets to be almost as annoying as the whine. It’s not a deal-breaker, but it’s worth mentioning.
When I started Blair Witch I was pretty disappointed. Walking in circles around the Burkittsville woods was not fun and had me questioning if the game was ever going to get interesting. Thankfully it did, but that didn’t happen until the halfway point. It’s worth mentioning that it took me 6 hours to complete Blair Witch. So three hours bored me to death and the other three had me grinning from ear to ear. If you’re a fan of the film or a fan of Layers of Fear, you’ll probably end up liking Blair Witch. If you fall in neither of those categories, then you should skip this one.
Final Verdict: 3/5
Available on: Windows (reviewed), Xbox One; Publisher: Bloober Team; Developer: Bloober Team; Release Date: August 30th, 2019; ESRB: M for Mature; MSRP: $29.99
Full disclosure: A review copy of Blair Witch was provided by the Publisher.