Disposed Hero's Blog

Posted on Oct 26th 2019 at 12:00:00 PM by (Disposed Hero)
Posted under Review, Xbox, PC, Game Pass, Horror, Adventure

While I certainly remember the hype behind The Blair Witch Project and the marketing campaign that led many to believe the film was found footage of real events, I never watched the movie back in the day and truthfully have still never seen it. However, as a huge fan of the survival-horror genre, I couldn't help but feel intrigued when the trailer for a new Blair Witch game was first shown last summer. Thanks to the game being easily available to play, I didn't wait long after its release to give it a try, and I was pleasantly surprised overall.

Blair Witch is a survival-horror title developed by Bloober Team (Layers of Fear, Observer) and published by Lionsgate Games. Released on August 30, 2019 for PC and Xbox One, it was met with mixed to positive critical reception. A surprise announcement at E3 2019, Blair Witch was immediately available to play via Xbox Game Pass upon its release and is still available at the time of this writing.

Set in 1996, two years after the events of the original Blair Witch Project film, main protagonist Ellis Lynch travels to Black Hills Forest with his dog Bullet to join the search party for nine-year old Peter Shannon. However, it doesn't take long for Ellis to become lost and start experiencing strange phenomena. Despite the source material and the potential that comes with it, the story elements in Blair Witch mostly fall flat. While there are some interesting plot threads, most of them lead to fairly predictable conclusions. It is also worth noting that the game has multiple endings, but the differences between them are subtle, and the requirements for attaining the 'true' ending are egregiously unintuitive.

Blair Witch is a first-person adventure game that leans fairly heavily into the 'walking simulator' category, and the game mostly involves wandering the Black Hills Forest in search of items or areas of interest. Exploring the forest, whether during the day or at night, is incredibly atmospheric and is a strong point of the game, which is good considering that wandering the woods comprises most of the gameplay. Ellis can interact with other people throughout the game using a radio and a classic mid-90s cell phone. The radio works similarly to practically any other game that utilizes a radio and is used mainly for direction and exposition. The cell phone feels fairly superfluous, but it does give you the option of making calls (when you have a signal) and receiving emails, which can help flesh out Ellis' character a bit.

Possibly the biggest draw of Blair Witch is the addition of Ellis' canine companion Bullet. Bullet is integral for navigating the confusing forest and will often lead you to important areas. There are also several interactions with Bullet that are available to the player at almost any given time, most notably a Seek command that has Bullet scan the nearby environment for any objects of interest. It is also easy to find Bullet if you get separated by using a single button press to call him. And to answer the most important question relating to Bullet: Yes, you can pet the dog. You can also reprimand and scold him if that's more your thing. Bullet is unsurprisingly the most endearing aspect of the game, and being lost in a creepy forest is a lot less unsettling with him around.

In fact, this is the entirety of the game for some people.

Being an adventure-style game, there are quite a few puzzle elements throughout the game. These include things such as manipulating fuses and finding parts to power on and operate heavy machinery, and these elements are well done for the most part and are a nice addition to the game. Fairly early in the game, a camcorder is found that can be used to view cassette tapes, and these will have to be used on occasion to manipulate reality, which is a neat and unique mechanic. The camcorder's nightvision mode becomes important later on to see hidden paths and markers that aren't visible to the naked eye.

For better or worse, there are also a few combat and stealth segments in the game. Combat mostly boils down to shining your flashlight in the direction that Bullet is barking to damage mostly invisible enemies. Stealth mostly involves using the nightvision on the camcorder to see invisible enemies and sneak past them. However, these elements do not add much to the overall experience, and in my opinion the game would have been improved by removing the stealth elements altogether and fleshing out or entirely removing the combat portions.

Blair Witch is a good looking game overall, with the forest environments in particular standing out as great. Some of the few non-wooded areas in the game can look a bit underwhelming in comparison, but they're not bad. Effects such as lighting are well done, which is crucial for a horror game, especially when flashlights are so prominently used. While there is very little music in the game to speak of, the voice acting and general sound design are well done.

Getting lost in the woods isn't so bad when it looks this nice.

There are also some technical issues to speak of that can hinder the overall experience, such as some framerate and stuttering problems. I also had an issue with getting stuck in doorways in interior locations and would often have to crouch to get through them. The dog AI can also be a bit wonky and cause some strange behavior in Bullet. These issues were all experienced playing via an Xbox One at release, and it's possible that some or all of these issues have been patched or were never present on PC.

Despite the game's shortcomings, I came away pleasantly surprised by Blair Witch and enjoyed it overall. It's not a game for everybody, but if you enjoy slower-paced adventure games and a great horror atmosphere, then there's something to like here. It is an easy recommendation for those with Xbox Game Pass, but due to its short length of only a few hours, I would recommend waiting for a sale before actually purchasing it.

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