As most know, the Blair Witch IP dates back to 1999 when the low-budget movie debuted and took audiences by storm. Since then the franchise hasn’t created much that’s been memorable, so it was certainly a surprise when we received a trailer for a Blair Witch video game during Microsoft’s Xbox E3 conference. Also surprising is the fact the game may be the best piece of entertainment ever created under the IP. Created by Bloober Team (Layers of Fear, Observer) and published by Lionsgate Games, the title uses all aspects of the Blair Witch legend to truly make players feel uncomfortable. And that’s putting it mildly.
The game takes place in Burkittsville, Maryland in 1996 and tells the story of an ex-detective Ellis and his faithful K9 companion Bullet who are assisting in a missing persons case. Bullet is an integral part of the game and will lead you on the correct path, find key items for you, and generally try to keep you safe. The more I played, the more I felt connected to Bullet. Bloober Team did an excellent job making Bullet feel like the only thing you can truly rely on throughout the entire journey.
The game mechanics are built around the time period and prior content from the franchise. Thus you have a trusty Nokia cell phone (complete with games and messaging), a flashlight, and a camcorder. The camcorder in particular plays a critical role in not only telling past events through tapes you find, but in changing the environment around you. It’s all relatively simple but the tricks played on the player with the camcorder are well done and a great homage to past entries in the series. While the mechanics and game design are simplistic, they suit the game well and leave the focus on the events presented to the player, which is where Blair Witch truly shines.
For context here, I’m a large fan of horror games. I’ve played them for decades and truly adore ones that take you on psychological journeys rather than relaying on cheap jump scares. As Ellis, it becomes clear rather early on that you are not mentally well. As the story progresses, you learn of the traumatic and harrowing events that have occurred throughout your life. The further you advance, the more is exposed and the further you descend into madness all the way down until the final climax.
It’s worth noting at this point that there have been some very memorable, psychological horror games. Titles that fully encapsulate your thoughts until you are so engrossed, you have to see it through to the end. While the overall title may not reach those heights, the final chapter stands firmly among some of the best I’ve ever experienced. It is a total mind melt and manages to culminate the entire game’s journey while simultaneously revealing the full history of Ellis’s past. It’s tense, gripping, and will leave a lasting mark on you which to me, are signs of a great horror experience. Further complimenting your voyage is binaural audio which is incredibly well implemented. Not since Hellblade have I sat in awe at how a game’s sound encapsulates madness.
Sadly, Blair Witch is not without its faults however. As we saw with Layers of Fear and Observer (great titles in their own right), it is not the most polished experience with intermittent framerate drops and some bugs here and there. While I didn’t experience anything that prevented me from progressing, it can still be jarring and/or frustrating while playing. Despite being a $29.99 title, that doesn’t excuse it from these basic issues in performance.
I was excited for Blair Witch’s release but it truly surprised me with how competent of a psychological journey it was. In the 8-9 hours I spent on my initial playthrough, I was treated to a horror experience that I now cherish. And given that there are multiple endings and areas specific to choices you make through the game, there’s replay value here as well. If you’re a fan of horror, don’t miss this one.
Final Verdict : 8
Fun Factor : 7
Technical Prowess : 5
Time Investment : 8-20 hours
Replayability : 6
Stay tuned for our Blair Witch review discussion on Bitcast 72!