When I first saw the trailer at E3 that told me that a Blair Witch horror game was on its way, I was ecstatic. That was until I saw it was being developed by Bloober Team games, the guys behind Layers of Fear. While many liked Layers of Fear, I myself was not a fan, and felt that it was way too “Scripted”. Most horror games are scripted in some places obviously, as there is a need to have set pieces that are designed to scare the player, however in Layers of Fear, it just felt too over the top, and combine that with the bad frame rate I had and I just wasn’t into the game. Does Blair Witch suffer the same fate? Well yes it does, but at the same time, no it doesn’t.
I do want to add this as a side note; I have never seen either the Blair Witch movie, as the recent one got horrid reviews and I was just a baby when the original came out, so I did endeavor into the world of this game not knowing the “story” of Blair Witch, and just knowing the premise so keep that in mind.
Minor spoilers to follow, nothing major. The opening scene of the game is of the main character Ellis, driving on some backroads in the deep woods with his companion dog Bullet. In the background you can hear a woman on the radio explaining the synopsis for the story, a young boy has gone missing and the local police is leading a search party into the forest to find him. It becomes immediately apparent even in this opening scene as we are driving through the woods that this game has some pop-in issues. Let it be known that I was playing on an Xbox One X, so this should not be the case.
Ellis arrives to find that the search party has already ventured into the woods, with some equipment left behind. This is where you get most of the items you will use throughout the game; a flashlight, cell phone, a walkie talkie. You’re also shown that Bullet will provide a part in the gameplay.
I know what you’re thinking, and the answer is yes, you can pet the dog. There are quite a few animations from petting his belly to rubbing his ears. However, he exists as more than simply something to pet, he has a few things that you are able to command him to do, such as seek out items, stick close to you, discourage him, and later in the game point out which direction the enemies are since its hard for you to actually see them. (More on that later though) The first thought I had when I saw the dog was a core gameplay function was to roll my eyes out of fear of him having some orrid AI and assuming that he would end up being an annoyance.
Pleasantly though, he was not an annoyance in the slightest. His AI was rather good, he stayed near me, and helped. The only issue in the game I ever ran into with him was a REALLY annoying glitch that happened. At one point you are told to “Tell Bullet to seek!”, however the issue was Bullet had simply disappeared or despawned. I spent a good bit attempting to find him and calling out for him, yet he never came and was just gone, and I had to reload my save and redo the section of the game I was doing.
While we are on the topic of bugs there are also a couple other ones I would like to point out. There were at least three occasions in the game where I was being called by someone on either Ellis’ personal phone and the walkie talkie, and the game simply wouldn’t allow me to answer. So, I completely missed the dialogue in each of these sections, it was just extra side story, but I it is still rather frustrating. There was also a section of the game where my frames were visibly dropping. So, the game has several notable technical and performance issues that I found.
Let’s talk about the positives. The sound design is incredible in every aspect from voice acting and environmental, and that leads to a terrifying atmosphere and this can’t be understated. I mean seriously, they nailed the sound from every perspective. There is nothing like walking through a forest, while it’s raining and hearing every single drop fall from the sky, immersing you ever much more in the ambience of the game.
It was necessary for the sound to be this good though as the atmosphere is primarily how the game scares you, there are hardly any jumpscares and even then they are at the end of the game. Graphically, aside from the pop-in issue, the game looks stellar. Everything looks realistic enough, from the dogs’ fur, the grass, the blood, the light, it all looks fantastic. A certain section in the game presents itself where everything gets rather foggy and it just looks amazing.
So as for the combat and puzzles, honestly, I didn’t really enjoy the combat. You must shine your flashlight at an enemy, so that they will disappear, Alan Wake style. The caveat to this is unlike Alan Wake, you can hardly see the enemies, and the goal is to have Bullet show you where they’re at and you point it in that general direction and kill them, however this is silly because they move around quickly and Bullet is constantly looking. Also, he is a lot shorter than you, so you must look down, see where he is pointing, only for them to have moved. So yeah, the combat overall sucks.
The puzzles are okay, you look through your camera and things will change, you find tapes that show you how to solve the puzzles. For the most part, the puzzles are simple though, so you won’t get stuck and there is a small feeling of accomplishment when you complete them, so I like them.
Overall you spend most of your time going through the forest and the many different areas in it according to the story. I want to note, that there are multiple endings, however the game doesn’t really convey that when you’re making these choices, so you just play and end up with the ending that you get, which sucks. Although it does mean there is a reason to replay the game. However, you’re going to wanna open up a guide later on to see how to get different endings since the game doesn’t really tell you.
I did enjoy the story a lot more than I thought I would. I thought I would have it figured out, then the game would subvert and be like “No, you were wrong!” and then later I would think I am right again and it is just this sort of cycle that keeps you guessing. So, although it can be a bit cliché, it attempts to throw curveballs, so I enjoyed it. The length is around 6 hours, I have seen others complain about this, but I think it is a suitable length, if it would have been longer it likely would have overstood its welcome and be worse because of it.
There is a section in the game, where it is supposed to simulate you going through an army battlefield going from point to point and avoiding the “enemies” in between the points. I put enemies in quotations because they are literally a pile of hurling leaves, several of them. I ask myself, why? This is not scary and its just annoying trying to avoid leaves, and they’re used later as well. However, despite this I would say this game maintains its steam of being pretty good right until the ending section, the ending section suffers from what I talked about in the beginning, Layers of Fear-itus. Everything is so… scripted, and its not scary. Several times you will turn around and the wall disappear again, and you must look at the ground to not see an enemy. It just becomes tedious doing the same tropes repeatedly, which genuinely disappoints me because despite everything, most parts of the game are enjoyable and scary due to the atmosphere, but the ending section is just not.