I used to be able to count on Bloober Team for quality games, or at least I thought I could. Layers of Fear was enticing, and Observer quickly transformed into one of my favorite games of all time. Around its release, I believed I had found a new favorite developer, and I was eagerly awaiting to play whatever came next from them. Then I suffered through the dismal Layers of Fear 2, and it felt like all the magic had been lost.
When Blair Witch was announced at Microsoft's E3 2019 conference, I thought it would be a sweeping return to form; the video game adaptation the Blair Witch saga deserved. What I got was a pseudo-intellectual riff on PTSD, the story of another sadsack in a failed relationship, and another dog I'd spend the whole game concerned about. Put simply, Bloober Team's vision of Blair Witch isn't the game I was expecting, nor the game the franchise deserved. Horror has to be more than jump scares and holding a shaky camcorder in the dark, and that's basically all this game can ascribe to. In every sense of the word, it's just "okay," save for some very frustrating glitches that happen from time to time. It's a shame, because it could have been so much more.
Blair Witch puts you in the shoes of a man named Ellis Jeremy Lynch, a former police officer and member of the U.S. Army. He's got a checkered past, with several traumatic events that appear to have happened to him over the years. As a result, his relationship with ex-girlfriend Jess became strained. The two still communicate though, even if it isn't as friendly or productive as both would hope. Ellis is wracked with guilt over events that happened in the past, and he's clearly dealing with some sort of PTSD or other debilitating mental illness, as is quickly revealed throughout the course of the game.
Due to a personal investment in a missing persons case, Ellis makes the decision to join the local police force's search for a young boy. He summons up all the courage he has to look for the child both as a way to prove to others (and himself) that he's not a broken man, and he's worthy of both the life he leads and the woman he loves. It's all very rote storytelling that you've probably seen and heard before. It might work in a movie, but translating Ellis's mental illness into game mechanics doesn't make for a compelling experience, as much as Bloober Team wants it to.
The game is what many would term a "walking simulator" in that most of the story finds you walking around the woods doing mostly nothing for the first 30 minutes or so. It's a first-person adventure game that relies solely on you happening upon interesting items to pick up, characters to progress the story, and the occasionally so-dark-you-can't-see patches, which mean you have to use your camcorder's night vision mode to stumble around with. This is never fun. When will developers learn that darkness doesn't always equal scary when you're not the one physically enshrouded by it? It's also just not scary. Sorry, that's the truth. If absolutely awful movies like Paranormal Activity get your heart racing or you think The Conjuring is the epitome of horror, this game is probably your speed. For anyone else, Blair Witch is likely to frustrate more than frighten.
Screwed the pooch
Walking in the dark is annoying, but at least you have Bullet by your side – or so the game thinks. Bullet the dog is meant to be useful for many things, as he's constantly ready for Ellis to command. Since you don't have a HUD, Bullet acts as something of a multi-tool to help guide you through the game. But while he's an adorable, sweet canine that you'll undoubtedly want to keep around (who isn't affected by the dark forces in the woods, but more on that later), he's not that helpful.
When the game's next objective calls for it, you can have him sniff out where you need to go next and he'll lead you there. Sometimes this works, and other times it doesn't. You can have him search for items around you too, and that's very hit or miss as well. Bullet seems pretty dim-witted most of the time, honestly, which is frustrating when he's meant to be such a huge part of the game. But outside of when you absolutely need him (or when he's alerting you to an enemy presence) he just isn't that great of a mechanic.
But he's still loveable, which brings me to an important point. The PR materials surrounding the game were quick to insist that Bullet can't be harmed by the forces in the forest, and that he'd be fine. This is mostly true, but without spoiling anything, depending on how you play, the game has other plans. I'll leave that detail vague for you to discover on your own, but suffice it to say Blair Witch is just another obnoxious attempt that, like 99% of other media, relies on "shocking" animal violence meant to prove how "evil" someone is, and it's stil just as tired and patronizing to think it's anything but a plot device the writers had to use (yet again) as a crutch.
Fumbling through the forest
Speaking of enemy presences, while exploring the woods, you'll occasionally get into some scuffles with some stupid-looking twig men. If you're familiar with the twig effigies from the Blair Witch movies, it's something like that – only they're a lot bigger, and you can't simply pick them up and crush them as you would the smaller ones hidden throughout the game. Like in Alan Wake, you use your flashlight to tear them up instead, as they abhor light. But they're annoyingly fast, despite being laughably silly and not scary in the least, so you can't always track them well.
But the woods aren't just full of twig men to send packing. There are puzzles, too, and a camcorder that helps you solve many of them. It actually lets you change the area you're looking at in-game when you pick up specific tapes found throughout the game. They're all unique clues that help shape the narrative here and there, and they can also help you solve some rudimentary environmental quandaries you come across. For instance, if a door that's locked near you isn't locked in a video, you can rewind a tape to show the open door and you can go through it in the real world after that. This isn't used as often as it should be, though it's one of the coolest parts of the game. Most of the other puzzles are pretty self-explanatory, solved via text messages you receive on your old-school cell phone or messages posted around the play area.
The puzzles would be mostly simple, if it weren't for the game-breaking bugs I encountered on three separate occasions, all centering around triggers that simply didn't fire for me to be able to solve them. For example, during one trip to a sawmill, there was an area where you start up a generator while moving toward a camp and the lights there begin o blink off. You need to search for a sparking fusebox that will let you swap out a fuse. However, there was never any sort of trigger that happened for me to be able to search the fusebox for the dialogue that I needed to actually look for said fuse.
I didn't know this at first. I thought I was just barking up the wrong tree, which felt impossible given how linear the game is. After searching for a way to resolve the issue I eventually gave up to come back and play later. When I reloaded my save, I was able to get the event going, find the fuse to replace in the fusebox, and I continued on my way. If I hadn't re-loaded my save, I would have had no clue I was just not seeing the right set of events. Similar things continued to happen during my time with the game, which made it much more frustrating than it needed to be, and in between the silliness, Ellis's "delusions," and other annoyances, it had me wishing I was playing Layers of Fear 2 instead, as much as I disliked it.
And what of the Blair Witch herself? Let's just say you're going to spend a lot of the game trying to figure out who (or what) it is, and not to positive effect. In the end, no matter which ending you get, you're going to be disappointed.
Burn the witch
It feels like Blair Witch began as a different project entirely, one completely unconnected to the mythos. It's as if Bloober Team quickly inserted the name Burkittsville for the village and quickly seeded some lore throughout the game as plan B. It could have originally been some sort of bizarre sequel to Spec-Ops: The Line (or something) and Bloober Team decided "Oops! We can only make horror games," then turned it into the final product here. With that said, it's a mostly functional game (despite the aforementioned bugs) and it might be interesting for a quick weekend play since it's available essentially for free with an Xbox Game Pass subscription, but I wouldn't recommend it as a full-price purchase.
Believe me when I say Terminal Reality's three-volume Blair Witch series is a better use of your time. Or better yet, watch the original found footage classic The Blair Witch Project if you haven't already seen it. It may be hokey, but it's culturally significant – and you may actually walk away a bit shaken.
This review is based on a PC code provided by the publisher. Blair Witch is available now on Xbox One and PC.
- Bullet is cute, even if he's not very useful.
- Interesting camcorder puzzle-solving mechanic.
- Nostalgic brick cell phone is fun to use.
- Game-breaking bugs.
- Needlessly confusing story.
- Not scary in the least.
- Uses jump scares as a crutch.
- Uses Bullet as a "shock" mechanic.
- Unnecessarily dark in most areas, making it annoying to maneuver.
Brittany Vincent posted a new article, Blair Witch review: Dog-gone tiring
That's pretty harsh!!!
I mean, avoiding the spoiler bits of the review since I'm not done yet I agree with some of the gripes, but overall I think it's mediocre / decent
Having not played all the way through the game yet I agree with this assessment
I wanna say I called it: http://www.shacknews.com/chatty?id=38863985#item_38863985
But this sounds worse than my prediction :/
I don't agree with at review. However I don't like Blair Witch (films) yet I love this game. I found them ridiculous, unbelievable and completely lacking in any tension. So that might be part of it. I played the pc version and the only game bug I ran into was I needed to have Bullet sniff something but the dog wasn't around and wouldn't come when called. A reload fixed it though.