In 1999, The Blair Witch Project was released in cinemas, onto an audience unprepared for a film so uncomfortably genuine. The found-footage style movie showed us three students headed into the Burkittsville woods in Maryland to make a film about the local legend of the Blair Witch. They were never seen again. All that was found was the disturbing tapes of their recordings. I’ve loved the film ever since it’s release, so when I heard there was a game coming out called Blair Witch, I was beyond excited. It was released yesterday and I’ve already played for about two hours on Xbox One.
Blair Witch is a first-person psychological horror, set in the Black Woods featured in the original film. If I was asked to compare it to another game, I guess I would say the game looks and plays a little like Outlast. You have no real weapons, you have a video camera, and some parts of the game are tense enough to have your heart pounding. The game opens with our main character Ellis, accompanied by his sidekick Bullet, a German Shepherd who is pivotal to the gameplay, driving into the historic village of Burkittsville, Maryland. The radio playing in the car informs us that a young boy has gone missing in the same woods a group of students who went missing back in 1994.
Ellis is joining the search for the boy and reaches the woods just after the local sheriff and his team do. Your first task is to head into the woods to catch up to them. But of course, it’s not that straight forward. These are the Black Woods after all. It’s a simple premise for a game but as a super fan of the film, I don’t really care why I’m there. I just want to explore these legendary woods. The game is intriguing at first, learning what commands you can give Bullet, finding black and white photographs of people standing in the corner of a room exactly the way Heather finds Mike at the end of The Blair Witch Project, and discovering clues about the missing boy.
But the real fun starts as soon as night falls for the first time. Shining your torch up into the trees feels so much like the film, I was overjoyed. I also spent quite a bit of time running around in circles, which in any other game could be frustrating, but as this is Blair Witch, it feels right. I think this was the intention of the developers as opposed to the game not having enough guidance. You genuinely feel lost out there. And the horrors that you do eventually face add to the fear even more. The only way to hurt them is to shine your torch at them before they attack. This isn’t as easy as it sounds as they move quickly and you never really get a good look at what they actually are. It builds the tension brilliantly and leaves you relieved when each encounter is over.
As the game progresses, we learn more about who Ellis is via panic-induced flashbacks and visions of his past. This adds a little depth to the character and helps you understand why he’s decided to go into these haunted woods alone. The flashbacks are sporadic and vague enough to keep you interested, and I’m looking forward to connecting all of the dots to make up the final picture of who he is. I don’t want to give anything away but so far I’m enjoying these clues about Ellis, and it makes me wonder if he’s going to be revealed as some kind of bad guy himself.
One of the most interesting elements of the game so far is the video camera, which you can use to manipulate your surroundings. You do this by watching, rewinding and pausing tapes you find around the woods. The videos are interesting enough alone, but using them to open a locked door or remove a fallen tree feels fun and the kind of f*ckery you would expect from these head-spinning woods. Also, the way Bullet helps you play this game is a great touch. He guides you, sniffs out clues, helps detect enemies and brings a sense of genuine companionship. I found my heart racing more than once when I lost sight of him. And the game does this too, with Ellis slipping into a panic attack if Bullet strays too far for too long. It makes you feel like you can rely on Bullet a lot, and I am worried that he will be killed off for dramatic effect. Please don’t kill Bullet!
Looking at videos of Blair Witch on PC, there is a noticeable difference in the graphics. On Xbox One the woods can become dull looking and sometimes background detail takes a second to load fully. It’s not a significant issue; the game still looks great. It just looks better on PC as far as I can tell. The controls are simple to use, the game doesn’t rely on jump scares, which is a huge bonus for me, and the sound is incredible. I played this game with headphones and even hearing Bullet sniffing around behind me felt creepy. So when the real horror kicks in, the sound is fantastic. In one part I was running from something unseen, just like in The Blair Witch Project (“What the fuck is that? WHAT THE F*CK IS THAT?!) and some of the sounds effects sounded like they had been lifted straight from the movie. This is an excellent touch, and makes the game feel even more like a continuation of the original story.
I’m enjoying Blair Witch a lot, and I’m looking forward to seeing how the story unfolds. I’m hoping to see more elements from the original film, maybe the house or even Heather herself could make an appearance. This game isn’t a revelation in gaming; we’ve seen the style and gameplay before. But if you’re a fan of The Blair Witch Project, I think there’s enough here to satisfy your hunger for more. I’m off to play more, c’ mon Bullet. Let’s find us a witch!