When The Blair Witch Project released in cinemas in 1999, I was caught up in the hype.  Not to the extent as being one of those that thought the camcorder footage was genuine, but I was impressed by its low budget and intriguing lore.  Then I watched the movie, and all of that changed.  I was left feeling very disappointed by the whole experience and that didn’t get any better when its sequel released a year later with Book of Shadows.  However, the 2016 reboot wasn’t too bad and I at least found it a tad more enjoyable then any of its predecessors, but that was just my humble opinion.  Yet despite this, I still remained intrigued by its lore and I really wanted something better, but I had doubts that will ever happen.  Then along comes Blair Witch, a new videogame adaptation from Bloober Team, the studio responsible for the Layer of Fear series and suddenly, I had some renewed hope and interest.

This Blair Witch story is set in 1996 and you play as former police officer by the name of Ellis, who is investigating a case of a missing boy.  His investigation leads him to the infamous Black Hill Forest, home of the myth that is the Blair Witch.  Ellis is a man that is suffering from a form of PTSD from ghosts of his past and he is hell bent on righting his wrongs, it seems at any cost.  However, unbeknown to Ellis, he has no idea what horrors lie ahead and his nightmares will soon become a reality.  Thankfully though, Ellis is not alone wondering in the dark forest, as he is accompanied by his loyal K9 companion Bullet, and Ellis is going to need all the help that he can, not only to solve the case of the missing boy, but also if he is ever going to escape from the clutches of the sinister Blair Witch.

I’m a fan of Bloober Team’s previous work, so I was going into the Blair Witch optimistic of what I might experience, however, being used to how Layers of Fear tells its story within its world that you explore, other than being in a first-person perspective, Blair Witch is a very different experience from either of the studios previous two games, and that’s a fantastic surprise as it shows the studios versatility on their form of telling a compelling horror story.  Also continuing on the a trend set in from Layers of Fear, is the cleaver use of puzzles that the Blair Witch has to offer, which helps not only break up the wondering about in the spooky forest, but they also provide a sense of genuine purpose in developing the story.

I don’t want to give too much away, with how the puzzles blend so perfectly into the story, but if you’re familiar with the original Blair Witch Project movie, then you might remember how the Black Hill Forest acts as somewhat of an inescapable maze with the characters often feeling like they’ve been wondering around in circles.  This Blair Witch adaptation takes inspiration from that aspect and while it can feel a little frustrating at times going in circles, in certain areas, the game will only allow you to progress until a puzzle is solved, which is an aspect that blends in the storytelling to the puzzle solving so well.  A camcorder also once more plays a pivotal role in the Blair Witch story and not only acts as a tool to help navigate in the dark, but it is also a vital tool in manipulating time.

I must add that when I first saw that Blair Witch would have a quite heavy focus on using a camcorder, I was concerned that it would borrow way to much from the likes of Outlast, thankfully I found that not to be the case as the camcorder is a tool used sparingly and at the right moments.  You might also be happy to know that this isn’t a run and hide horror simulator, though there are some segments that will require you to avoid detection, but this is a mechanic that never feels overused.  Blair Witch also tones it down on cheap jump scares, instead the feeling of horror is the sensation provided by Ellis’ story as it unfolds, with the added aspect of loneliness in the dark and creepy Black Hills Forest, yet the feeling of always being watch never leaves you.  Yet despite Blair Witch having a good level of atmosphere, it’s not really that much of a scary game, which is odd for a game that obviously wants to be, but that could just be purely subjective on my part.

While Blair Witch is very light on the combat, which is a good thing in my book, as it would take away some of the sense of dread  However, there are some forms of combat, inspired by the likes of Alan Wake.  During your forest expedition, from time to time, you’ll encounter some ghostly ghouls.  If they get to close, they can kill you.  The only way to defeat them, is by using your trusty flashlight, but keep an eye on Bullet, because he will help you detect where the threat is coming from.  But again, these ghouls are not really that scary and I believe enemies would have been better served as being some form of ghostly spirits, perhaps the lost those souls taken from Blair Witch herself?  If this game gets a sequel, I would love to see this happen.

Bullet is a companion that you will rely on a lot, not only in moments of comfort, but he’s also very handy in helping you find your way and to search for vital clues.  You can also issue commands to Bullet, to not only search, but also to stay, walk by your side and you can give him some loving fuss too.  You can also give Bullet a telling off, but seriously, damn you if you do.  Bullet is far more useful than most human NPC’s and very early on in the story, you’ll be doing all you can to help Bullet feel safe, rather then it being the other way around.  Blair Witch has fantastic sound design and a well supported voice-cast and if possible, I would recommend that you heed the developer’s words before you start the game, encouraging you to play the game using a headset.

As enjoyable as Blair Witch is, it’s not without its faults.  For starters, it does suffer from its fair share of framerate stutters and texture pop-ups, which seem to happen whenever the game re-loads a location when it has you “walking around in circles”.  There was also an odd issue very late on the in the game when walking through doorways, where it would block me from walking through a door clear from obstruction, but when I crouched, it would allow me to pass though, almost like there was an invisible block of wood across the door at head height.  One other issue that I found was during its climatic moments, where at least for five moments, I felt like the game was about to end for it to then keep on going, which got a little frustrating.  Don’t get me wrong, the concluding location was really cool, but it was almost like the developers wanted to make the most out of this particular location, but this excessiveness soon felt tedious as I was urging the story to end, which put a slight sour point on what is otherwise, a very well told story.

All in all, Bloober Team have done a fantastic job in breathing life into this twenty year old horror story, which started with a movie that had a $60k budget.  Other then the quality of storytelling and some clever use of puzzle solving; this is a very different horror story from this team of developers.  It kept me hooked from start to finish during my six hour playthrough, which can easily be extended by another couple of hours if you discover some of the side activities and collectibles.  I also discovered upon finishing the story, that the campaign does seem to have multiple endings, so I would recommend indulging on the side activities and also be mindful of how you treat those around you.  Blair Witch adds another layer of fear to its enticing lore and is yet another horror hit of 2019 for Bloober Team.  Oh, Blair Witch is also included in the Xbox Game Pass at the time of writing this review.



Author

Richard Lee Breslin
Richard Lee Breslin

Gamimg has been my life for 30+ years and will always be my passion. I have a BDes Hons Games Development and Digital Media, and I hope to one day turn my passion for gaming and writing into a living. My favourite gaming series are Resi Evil, Metal Gear Solid, Silent Hill, Assassin's Creed, Uncharted and The Last of Us. I collect gaming merchandise, comics and movies. I love football (namely Aston Villa) and WWE. I can also often be found wondering the outskirts of Raccoon City. Follow me on Twitter @Solidus5nake and you can check out my Patreon here: https://www.patreon.com/solidus5nake