Blair Witch offered Xbox gamers a frightening thrill ride through Burkittsville’s Black Hills Forest late last year, whilst a PlayStation 4 release came out not too long after. Why are we re-visiting it so many months later then? Well, it recently got a physical release, giving gamers the chance to get this spook-fest sitting on their shelves alongside all of their favourite video games. What better time than now then to re-visit Bloober Team’s latest horror effort?
Players take on the role of Ellis, an ex-Police Officer who looks to help the local Police Force with their search for a missing child named Peter in the Black Hills Forest. With your mysterious past haunting you as you scour the woods as well as the presence of the dark force of the Blair Witch, this search soon turns into a deadly struggle as you look to conquer your demons in order to save the Peter.
In fairness, the plot of Blair Witch is decent and offers plenty of little twists-and-turns as events unfold. Ellis has his mobile phone and radio with him that allows for interactions with other characters to learn more about what’s going on and Ellis’ past, whilst the fact that information is slowly drip-fed to you as you progress ensures there’s always a sense of tension to be felt. There are multiple endings on offer too, though you may want to check Google to learn how to unlock them – it’s certainly not the easiest of processes…
Blair Witch’s gameplay consists of exploring the woods, finding clues, and solving puzzles as you look to find out more about Peter’s disappearance. You’re not alone in your search though, with your loyal dog Bullet by your side – he’s not just there for company, but will also sniff around for any nearby clues and even help you find your way through the maze-like woods. With more and more eerie sights to encounter as you progress and slowly lose your mind, you’ll be glad to have that extra bit of canine company… just don’t forget to give him dog treats when he’s a good boy.
Whilst the explorative mechanics of Blair Witch are full of atmosphere and spooks, the puzzles you encounter don’t always hit the mark. You’re able to use a video camera to examine tapes that you find, which when played can make certain objects appear (or even disappear) in the environment when paused at the right moment. It never made sense why this happened (let’s blame it on Blair Witch shenanigans), but the puzzles that involved this just got a little repetitive as time went on. It was neat the first couple of times you do it, but then I just found myself wanting the game to do something a little bit different.
When it did offer something different it could just be a little obtuse though, with some moments of Blair Witch leaving me scouring the same area over and over again trying to work out what I needed to do. I figured this could have just been me being a little dumb, but after looking online I saw that other players had similar issues too. In fairness, it usually just takes a bit of wandering and searching to progress, but there were some moments where the game offers very little in the way of direction that everything could just feel a little aimless.
Unfortunately, it’s with Blair Witch’s enemies that the game underwhelms the most, with the player facing off against strange creatures that are defeated by shining your flashlight on them. These encounters were just annoying, with the player having to check the direction of Bullet’s barks to see where they’re coming on… well, when it worked – there were more than a few occasions where he seemed to bark in a particular direction but the enemy would be somewhere else.
These encounters were just a bit of a nuisance and I wish that they weren’t in the game at all. There are also stealth sections where you’ve got to avoid the enemies which were a bit more forgivable, but actually dealing with the enemies first-hand just broke up both the pace of the game and its eerie tension.
To top things off, I was unlucky enough to run into a few bugs during my time playing. At one point, an enemy got stuck in the environment and I was unable to kill it, which left Bullet constantly barking at them and unable to follow my order to find a nearby item. A quick re-load of my save fixed it, but it was still annoying. On another occasion, I couldn’t interact with a giant evil tree (the best way to describe it) in order to progress – again, it only took a re-load of my save to fix, but it was frustrating.
I’ve given Blair Witch a fair bit of stick in this review, but it’s not all bad. In fact, the sense of tension and the eerie atmosphere in the game is fantastic, and I genuinely found myself nervous when exploring the woods. The finale in particular is impressive and re-creates the vibe of the Blair Witch movie perfectly, even if it did drag out a little longer than I would’ve liked. Either way, when it comes to horror, Blair Witch gets a lot right – it’s just the other areas of the game that let it down.
Blair Witch is oozing with atmosphere and there’s no denying that exploring those famous woods is incredibly spooky, but the gameplay itself could just feel a little too underwhelming to enjoy. The puzzling can feel repetitive, the enemies are frustrating to encounter, whilst some sections play out a bit too long and break the pace of the experience.
Those who enjoy the source material and horror video games will probably enjoy Blair Witch, but there’s no doubting that there are better horror games out there that back up their eerie vibe with more enjoyable gameplay.
Developer: Bloober Team
Publisher: Lionsgate Games
Platform(s): PlayStation 4 (Reviewed), Xbox One, PC