1999's The Blair Witch Project is a horror classic, popularizing the found footage genre and blurring the lines between fiction and reality. Subsequent films and video game projects have attempted to recapture that lightning in a bottle, largely failing to do so. However, fans of The Blair Witch Project who have been letdown by the sequels should definitely give Bloober Team's video game version of Blair Witch video game a try. It's flawed, but it's the closest anything has come to capturing the magic of the original movie.
Blair Witch embraces the source material, incorporating visual elements like the franchise's iconic stick symbols and using the found footage gimmick to create one of the game's more interesting mechanics. At a certain point in the story, Blair Witch players get their hands on a camcorder that can be used both to see otherwise invisible things in the environment and to view tapes found in the game world. If players pause red tapes at just the right time, they can completely change the world around them, or bring in something from the tape into the real world to solve a puzzle and advance the plot. Combine this with some occasional combat sequences and it becomes clear that Blair Witch is more than just a standard walking simulator game.
Blair Witch is a little more involved than other "walking simulators" in terms of exploration as well, with players able to explore a decent chunk of the forest without being stuck on a strict path. Granted, players will find almost nothing interesting if they stray from where the game wants them to go, but Blair Witch still does a surprisingly good job of making players feel like they're actually out walking around in the Black Hills forest.
Unfortunately, protagonist Ellis will sometimes walk into an invisible wall and that can shatter the immersion, which is devastating for a game like this. Technical issues like Ellis's dog Bullet walking through the air or Ellis getting stuck inside objects, while very rare, are frustrating to encounter because they will pull players out of the experience. Ellis himself can sometimes be a hurdle to getting immersed in the game, as he has some weird reactions to things around him and he bizarrely chooses not to tell people he's communicating with about the weird stuff going on, which seems unrealistic.
Then again, something that may explain why Ellis isn't as open with other characters in the game is due to his PTSD. We won't go into details about why Ellis has PTSD, but it's established very early on that it's something he struggles with. If we didn't already know that there is definitely supernatural goings-on in Black Hills due to the Blair Witch film series, it actually would have been pretty interesting if the developers kept it vague in regards to whether or not these things were truly happening or if they were just a product of Ellis's PTSD.
Regardless of whether or not anything Ellis experiences throughout the game is "real," the game doesn't shy away from Ellis's PTSD and the impact it has on him. But Ellis's mental health struggles are more than just window dressing like they can be in other games. Early in the game, the developers cleverly use Bullet to calm Ellis when he's having one of his PTSD episodes, not unlike what a service dog would do in real life.
Bullet is both one of Blair Witch's best features as well as one that arguably works against the game's ability to scare the player. There are times when Bullet is taken away from Ellis, and these moments are certainly tenser because players have been made to feel safe with the dog, but having a companion throughout the story makes it hard to get scared by what's going on.
When the game does manage to draw players in, its scares can be very effective. We found ourselves jumping more than once and feeling a sense of dread when having to enter certain areas. The audio design also does a great job of creeping players out. We played through Blair Witch in the dark with headphones on, as it should be experienced, and it's unnerving to hear the crunching of leaves off in the distance or strange, inhuman sounds from the darkness as Ellis walks through Black Hills forest. At one point there was a thunderstorm in the game and it sounded so realistic that we thought it was storming in real life. Blair Witch's audio design is superb and really should be considered for some awards come the end of the year.
Blair Witch's perfect sound design pairs well with the game's visual presentation, which also plays a huge role in creating the game's atmosphere. Bloober Team payed great attention to detail, delivering excellent animations and very realistic environments. Plus, some of the weirder scenes are especially creative, with the last hour of the game serving a visual spectacle as a reward to those who make it to the end.
The last hour or so of Blair Witch is absolutely bonkers, but it does overstay its welcome just a bit. Players are bombarded with some insane imagery and disturbing scenes, but it lasts forever and has diminishing returns. Had the game wrapped up about 30 minutes sooner, the ending would have really stuck as something special.
It was claimed previously that it takes six hours to beat Blair Witch, but we were able to complete it in just over four, so it's a pretty short game. That being said, there are plenty of collectibles to find hidden in the forest, not to mention multiple endings to boost its replay value. Unfortunately, there doesn't appear to be a way to just jump into any chapter the player chooses, meaning players have to start the entire game from the beginning if they want to see any of the other endings, and that's not a hugely appealing prospect.
Blair Witch isn't necessarily a game many people will want to replay, especially because of a gameplay segment near the end that's just downright tedious. However, many will be satisfied by their initial playthrough, as Blair Witch is a consistently interesting horror story with outstanding audio and graphics throughout. It may not be quite as groundbreaking as the film it's based on, but Blair Witch is the next best thing to the original movie, and it's definitely worth checking out for fans of the franchise, despite its shortcomings.
Blair Witch is out now for PC and Xbox One. Game Rant was provided a PC code for this review.