Blair Witch is an interesting franchise that has had its fair shares of ups-and-downs. Kicked off by the cult classic film The Blair Witch Project in 1999, the series set the modern standard for the “found footage” style of filmmaking. It was followed by a less than impressive “sequel” a year later and then a proper sequel in 2016 that was met with mostly positive reviews. Fast forward three years and the talented people over at Bloober Team (Layers of Fear, Observer, Layers of Fear 2) have presented us with a video game set in the universe established 20 years ago. Does it live up to the Blair Witch legacy or is this another film-to-game adaptation gone wrong? Unfortunately, it leans a bit more towards the latter.
Blair Witch takes place two years after the events of the original film. You play as Ellis, a former cop and military vet who suffers from PTSD. Ellis is joined by his trusty German Shepherd, Bullet, as the pair wander through the iconic Black Hills Forest to help locate a missing child. As you explore the forest armed with only a flashlight, a magic camcorder, a walkie-talkie, and a cell phone, you begin to witness the effects of the witch herself in the form of visions, weird forest monsters, and haunting bumps in the night.
Blair Witch takes roughly 6 hours to complete and that time is largely dependent on how much or how little time you want to spend exploring the world. While the forest is by far the largest environment Bloober has ever created, it becomes more frustrating than fun to venture through. The opening moments of the game are incredibly slow, and not in that “slow burn horror” sort of way. It pushes you forward and says “explore, find clues, save the kid” but doesn’t feature elements of a polished game that utilize subtle techniques or tricks to keep you moving forward. About an hour or so in, Blair Witch begins to pick up speed by introducing a semi-interesting back story and ramping up the spooks but not long after it screeches back to a slow, lackluster crawl. This stop-and-go repetition is utilized throughout the entire campaign and truly prevents you from enjoying the atmospheric horror that Bloober sets out to accomplish until the final moments of the game, which are by far the best and most in-line with the Blair Witch franchise lore.
Bullet, your four-legged companion, is the best part of this game. Using an action wheel, you can command him to sniff out various clues and paths that need to be taken. While this works most of the time, acting as a sort of guide to push you forward, sometimes it won’t work at all leaving you confused and frustrated as to where to go next. You can also reward Bullet with treats and pets which you just might find yourself doing more than playing the actual game thanks to how fun and satisfying it is.
A neat but out-of-place mechanic in this game is the use of a magic camcorder. Once you find the camcorder early in the game, you can watch various red tapes through it. These red tapes have a unique ability that allow you to pause on certain moments or items and bring these events into the current world. It is a neat mechanic but is never truly explained and feels a bit out-of-place in Blair Witch lore. Did the witch decide to make this device magic to aide you? It is strange and, while unique, felt like it was tossed in just to add more of a gimmick.
Speaking of gimmicks, let’s talk combat. There is combat in this game...kind of. The forest is infested by minions of the witch that materialize as tree demons at various points in the campaign. You fend them off by pointing your flashlight at them until they vanish, reappear in another area, and then randomly leave altogether until the next scripted moment. If you think this sounds like Alan Wake, you wouldn’t be wrong, only Blair Witch does it in a way that is only added for jump scare shock value and not actual story substance. This entire idea could have been taken out of the game and would have lead to a more immersive and scary setting.
Throughout my time with the game (reviewed on a PC copy), I encountered various bugs and game-breaking glitches that often forced me to restart the game or that completely broke me out of the immersion. Same goes for the voice-acting and forced character development. I didn’t care about the main character, his love interest, or any of the voices on the other end of the walkie. I only cared about Bullet (he’s a very good boy) and finding this kid.
Blair Witch isn’t all bad and frustration, however. When it gets the horror right, it gets it really right. Walking through the pitch-black forest armed with only your flashlight and Bullet’s nose for guidance, eery whispers and cries echoing in your ears, makes for a downright terrifying experience. The latter half of the game nails this, which is not at all surprising considering Bloober has excelled in the audio development of every single game they have made. These moments, though few and far between, felt the most in line with the vibe of the Blair Witch franchise and are the moments that stayed with me long after the credits rolled. I just wish there had been more of that and less of the typical video game tropes.
Blair Witch has a case of mistaken identity. It wants to be a great horror game but more often than not fails to remember that it is a game set within a pre-established universe, throwing many of the ideas the film franchise created right out the window. When it works, it works fantastically, but those moments are overshadowed by clunky animations, sub-par voice acting, game-breaking glitches (the studio has said these are being worked on), and mechanics that feel gimmicky and frustrating instead of fun and adding to the level of fear. The frustrations overpowered the enjoyment and, when presented with the idea of obtaining another of the multiple endings, you have no motivation to go back through and play again. Blair Witch has potential that is, unfortunately, squandered by sloppy gameplay mechanics and frustrating level design. This is not an adventure you want to repeat.