Movie-based video games aren’t a new concept. In fact, there have been video games based on movies all the way back in the early 80s. Although many of these games tend to be completely awful, some of them have won over gamers. However, video games based on horror movies tend to be the former rather than the latter.
The Blair Witch franchise has had its time in the video game community with three lackluster titles that were released on PC back in 2000. They attempted to broaden the lore of the franchise by exploring earlier stories within the Blair Witch mythos. Unfortunately, they lost sight of what made the movie unique and terrifying.
Developer Bloober Team, creators of Layers of Fear, are no strangers to the horror genre. If anyone could make a faithful adaptation of the classic horror film it’d be them. However, as has happened in other movie-based video games, could Blair Witch be doomed to the same fate as those who have come before it?
Blair Witch takes place on September 15, 1996. This is three years before the events of the first movie. Former police officer Ellis and his canine partner Bullet head out into the Black Hills woods near Burcketsville, MD in search of a missing local boy, Peter. It’s clear that he has a troubled past and as the story progresses his story unravels as well as his sanity.
While the story is interesting, it doesn’t make any strides to tie it into the overall lore of the franchise. None of what goes on in the game has anything to do with Coffin Rock, Rustin Parr, or the three films. In fact, there’s barely any reference to the witch herself. This made it feel less like a Blair Witch game and more like Layers of Fear 3.
A former soldier and ex-police officer. He is determined to find the missing local boy, Peter, and bring him home safe. As the story progresses, it turns out that he has a deeper connection to the woods than he realized.
Ellis’s faithful canine companion. Gifted to him by Sheriff Lanning, Bullet serves both as Ellis’s partner as well as his service dog. Without Bullet, Ellis’s mental state deteriorates.
Ellis’s wife who we never get to see, but she calls and texts him throughout the game. It’s clear that the two have been through a lot and she’s not sure if she should stay with or leave Ellis.
Former boss of Ellis who seems to have issues with him being on the case. He cares about Ellis but doesn’t think he has the mental capacity to handle fieldwork.
A deranged man living in the Black Hills. He claims responsibility for kidnapping Peter and constantly taunts Ellis as he puts him through a series of tests.
The game works much in the same way as Bloober Team’s previous titles. Everything is from a first-person perspective and there is virtually no combat. There are three main areas of the game: The main forest, the Witch’s forest, and Rustin Parr’s house. The main forest is where you spend most of the game, and it’s sectioned off so you can only explore certain areas depending on your progress within the story. Each section requires you to search for clues and solve minor puzzles to get around. There are some optional puzzles that you can completely miss if you’re not careful.
As you progress through the game you’ll find tapes with previous events playing out on them. Some of the puzzles revolve around using a camcorder you find in the woods to rewind events to clear paths. It was a very interesting feature, but it was really underutilized. I wish that they had implemented it more into the rest of the game as the sections where you had to use it was neat.
There are collectibles to find throughout the game such as wooden totems, stickmen, polaroid photos, and piles of rocks. The stickmen and piles of rocks are taken directly from the movie, and their presence makes Bullet uneasy, rendering him useless. What is not told to you is what these items have to do with the story, but depending on your actions throughout the game determines which ending you’ll receive.
Speaking of Bullet, there is a command function that allows you to have him sniff out clues, stay at your side, or even pet him. The downside was that it, like many of the game’s functions, was heavily underutilized. I rarely used the commands except when he’d run off into the tall grass and I couldn’t find him. He serves as a guide when you’re lost, but even then he didn’t function correctly. At one point he had me going in circles for an hour.
The only sort of combat came from the Witch’s tree minions that would occasionally appear. Bullet would growl to let you know of their presence, and you had to flash your flashlight in the direction he was facing to ward off the onslaught. They were the only real enemies in the game, and they flashed by so quick it was hard to even see what they looked like. The other common enemy were monsters that rolled around inside piles of leaves. You had to run past them as they can’t be killed and chase after you quicker than you can run. Don’t ask, I have no idea.
The music in the game was probably the highlight for me. Bloober does a great job finding impeccable music for their games, and I felt that the soundtrack definitely set the mood for the game.
The game as a whole can probably be summed up by the quality of the graphics, not quite up to par. There were times when the surroundings looked great! Only to be smudged by clipping and a drop in texture quality. It was such a shame to witness because there’s so much potential there. Sadly, a lot of the surrounding, as you would expect, was just the forest. They did a good job giving it some variety, but considering most of your time is spent in the woods I feel like they should have spent more time perfecting it.
The artwork is absolutely amazing, but the in-game graphics just don’t hold up to the same quality. As in previous games, the team focused on the trippy camera and graphic work to try and mess with the player’s mind. Unfortunately, after five hours I felt completely unsensitized to it by the end. At one point a lamp was literally bleeding and my reaction was just, meh.
At the end of the day, Blair Witch has a lot of potential. Unfortunately, it plays out more like a tech demo than an actual full-fledged game. Even with me getting lost so many times, it only took me five hours to complete it. I know horror is subjective, but I wasn’t even remotely scared. The hype had me anxious at first, but as I played through the game it just lessened until it was non-existent.
Probably the scariest aspect was the many bugs that were littered about. The whole last area had me crouching to get through doorways because there were countless invisible polygons blocking me from walking through. It’s frustrating to see all of the groundwork laid out only for the game to fall so flat. While I honestly could not recommend it at the full $30, but at $15 I think it’s worth at least one playthrough. Blair Witch is available on Steam and Xbox One.