When I saw Blair Witch announced during E3 2019 this year, I just knew I had to play it. The kid in me was so excited to be reintroduced to the horror film that plagued my nightmares. When I learned that the game was being developed and published by Bloober Team, the company behind Layers of Fear and Layers of Fear 2, I was convinced we were going to have a great game. While it does have its up and downs, it is by far one of the better games I have played this year. Overall it was pretty terrific and watching Ellis fall deeper into chaos is so satisfying it’s scary. Due to the nature of the game, the review will not be spoiler free so please be mindful going forward.
What I love about single-player horror games is the different mechanics that come with them. One of my favorite mechanics in the game is how you get to interact with your dog, Bullet. You learn early on that Bullet is more than just a search and rescue dog, he keeps Ellis sane. You can use him to seek and follow trails, you can pet him, call him closer, keep him close, and reprimand him. Obviously I chose to never reprimand him, but I am sure that led to different things later in game. I also chose to always keep him close, but as a dog mom in real life it was hard to image just letting him go too far from me.
The video camera mechanic was one of my favorite and least favorite mechanics throughout. In the beginning it is introduced to you as a way to find clues, such as how to fight off the forest monsters with your flashlight, or it allows you to change things within the real world. This is seen through being able to find clues dropped by the boy or moving trees out of your path. However, it changes out of nowhere about halfway through when you need to use it to walk through the fog and avoid enemies. This felt like it was dropped in out of nowhere and was hard to grasp at first. Once I figured it out, navigating was a bit easier but still frustrating.
In the beginning of the game, I felt like the mechanics worked well together. Send Bullet to find things, follow him, and keep him close to stay sane. Then use the video camera to adjust your surroundings, to find things or figure out clues. Then the second half feels like a whole new game that was much harder with new mechanics, but the same story. Overall though the mechanics were fresh and while not well taught later on, pretty fun.
Blair Witch is one of the most stunning games I have ever played. The forest feels full of life but at the same time you feel very alone. What also really threw me off a few times was at some points instead of stopping you from continuing it loops you back around to finish a certain zone. In a house or somewhere with a lot of distinct milestones this is obvious, but in the woods or in a ravine it is almost impossible to catch. During the part when you are carrying Bullet through the ravine, I had no idea we were looping until Ellis gives a verbal notification of it.
The game does a fantastic job reminding us that Ellis is not as sane as we would hope. When he starts to go into flashbacks or gets too far from Bullet, the screen visually changes and adjusts to show that everything is not okay. This added a level of suspense I was not quite ready for and it put me on edge all the time. Visually I think my favorite part of the game was during the final part in the house. As you are fighting back against your past, there are significant people that appear throughout the game standing in corners. A fantastic call back to the original movie.
I will admit that when Blair Witch was first announced, I was very worried we were going to get a “man saves the day” type game and atmosphere. I was pleasantly surprised during the trailer at Gamescom to learn that Ellis is not all there. From the very beginning after he first signs onto the radio, you start to hear the other search parties remark how he shouldn’t be there. He isn’t sane and frankly a waste of resources. During the first flashback, we get to see how his private life is being torn apart by some shady past terrors. This whole idea is played out very well in game, as we slowly sink deeper and deeper into insanity.
We do get a true villain in the game in the form of Carver. He admits to being the one who abducted the boy and killing the sheriff along with men from the log mill. I spent the majority of the game hoping to catch the guy and saving the boy. However, it appears that the witch does play a part in this. She wants Ellis to take over the role as Carver. Or in this twisted universe, were we Carver the whole time? No one can be certain. Except Bloober Team of course. But I doubt we will ever get a straight answer.
If there is one thing I found Blair Witch to be lacking was the even spread of jump scares throughout the game. Most of the scary parts take place later on, with a majority only being once you reach the final house phase. The game does have a special feature that tracks player behavior and uses it against them. I am assuming that Carver wanted me to shoot Bullet because the game knew just how much I loved him from all the belly rubs. It then put me through what felt like an eternity of carrying the poor pup after he fell into a ravine as he whimpered in my arms. After the game was over and done with I picked up my own dog and just held her. At least in my ending Bullet is alive in the end, even though Ellis goes crazy.
If you are a fan of horror survival story games, I would say that Blair Witch is right up your alley. The game took me about six and a half hours to play through, though I was streaming and interacting with people during. I have seen people complete it in about four hours as well. It will definitely leave you with a good scare and the story line fits well into the franchise itself as long as you can get through some of the glitchy complain and unbalanced mechanics,.
Blair Witch released on August 30, 2019 for PC and Xbox One. You can purchase it for $29.95 on either platform. If you purchase it before September 6th on Steam you can save yourself 10%! If you have played, let us know how you feel about it on Twitter!