A few weeks ago, on the day of its release, I played Blair Witch for a few hours and then wrote up my initial thoughts on it. My hands were still shaking from my first experience of the game as I typed the review up. Fast forward a few intense weeks and I have made it out of the woods, I have finished the game and I can almost sleep right through the night without waking up screaming.
Blair Witch was one hell of a ride, and it made me lose my shit on more than one occasion. The gameplay was enjoyable, the scares were great and you got to play the majority of it with a dog by your side. What more could you want?
My initial thoughts review covered what I had already experienced in the game, what I predicted for further into the story and also my hopes of elements from the original movie showing up in game. After completing the game, I can safely say I enjoyed the game a lot. It had its down sides, we’ll get to those later, but overall it was great.
Blair Witch genuinely feels like an extension of the movie and creates an atmosphere for the gamer to feel what it was like for the ill-fated teenagers all those years ago. So join me, Anthony Divers, as I take you back to the Black Woods once more. Spoilers ahead.
One man and his dog
The story behind Blair Witch is fairly straight forward to begin with. You play as Ellis, who heads into the Black Woods to join the search for a missing boy. As you get further into the game, more of Ellis’ backstory is revealed, and the story gets more intriguing because of this. Ellis has some serious demons from his past still haunting him to this day. After my initial review, I expected Ellis to be a bad guy. But he isn’t really—he’s made mistakes in the past but I don’t view him as a bad person. His story shows his mistakes and how the guilt has enveloped him.
One of the cruel tricks these woods plays on Ellis is bringing him back to these mistakes again and again. It’s relentless, and could drive any man to madness. The only light in all of this darkness is Bullet, your beloved dog. He’s such a safety blanket in this game, he really does stop you from going crazy. I found myself petting him after a scary encounter just to lower my heart rate. I predicted bullet would die in my first review, and to some extent I was right. He doesn’t actually die but you do part ways at one point leaving you feeling lost and completely alone.
The other major character in this story is Carver, the man in the woods trying his best to make you fail. He has been haunted by the Witch for years, and sees your arrival in his woods as an opportunity to escape her at last. He’s sufficiently creepy, looking similar to the woodsman from Twin Peaks (gotta light?) and plays the part well. I was never particularly afraid of him but he helps build the story of the Witch and the woods well. He calls you on your radio, he gives you cryptic clues to story points and generally annoys you for the second half of the game.
When I got to the end of the game, one of my hopes became reality. We get to run around in the house from the movie. It’s so much fun. As a major fan of the film I couldn’t get enough of the house. It looks perfect, holds many a scare (or two), and adds elements from the film that just tickled me pink. Shadowy figures standing in the corners, the basement, the winding corridors. It’s a perfect recreation of the house, and felt like a great climax for the game. Once you finally escape the mad house, you get to see one of four endings, depending on how you played the game. Breathe, you made it.
I’m scared to open them
Blair Witch manages to make you feel a few different emotions throughout its story. The main one of course being fear. Playing this game with headphones as advised at the start of the game leads to some serious chills on your spine. The sound is excellent in this game, especially later on in the story when the Witch starts randomly whispering in your ear. It’s incredibly creepy, and while there are a few jump scares here and there, especially in the house at the end, the game doesn’t rely on them. Instead it uses sound and atmosphere to build tension to almost unbearable states.
I love a scary game, and I haven’t been this scared since the last Outlast game. Blair Witch has that same feeling of helplessness. One of my regular scares was found when trying to sneak past an enemy, almost making it only to have them spot you at the last minute. The wild dash into the woods to try and escape them, which almost always fails by the way, as they roar behind you had my heart pounding in my ears. This game has scares down to a tee, but what I didn’t expect was to feel sad. Enter Bullet.
After spending a large portion of the game bonding with your four legged friend, and turning to him for comfort after any particularly nasty encounters, I did find it genuinely heart breaking when you are separated. This starts with him running away from you and then yelping in pain in the distance. When you find him, he is injured and whimpering. You pick him up and carry him into a horror game classic, the never ending loop. You walk slower and slower through a ravine over, and over, and over again. Each loop you make reveals writing more clearly on the walls. It says ‘Let dying dogs lie’.
I ignored this very clear message and continued struggling on, my crying dog in my arms and a lump in my throat as I believed he was dying. This went on for quite some time. Eventually Bullet disappears from your arms and you are free from the loop, left thinking he has been killed by the Witch. I felt genuinely empty after this part of the game. The loop is obviously designed to try and get you to leave him, and to be rewarded for persevering with him going away anyway is a punch in the gut. Upon ending the game, you find that he actually survived but still, forgive me Bullet.
I mentioned in my previous review how the graphics in Blair Witch were noticeably better on PC than on Xbox One. This does still appear to be correct, but as the majority of the game is set in the woods at night, I didn’t find this a particular issue. The woods look real, the lighting works great, and unless you zoom in on texture details, the game does look great. The final scenes in the house look particularly good. You can tell how much time was spent making the house look as realistic as possible. The broken walls and dirt covered floors look great, and the elements with the figures standing in the corners work brilliantly.
The graphics could be more of an issue if the sound wasn’t so perfectly rendered. From twigs snapping in the distance, to the whispers of the Witch, even the once creepy snuffling of Bullet behind you. All of the sound in this game is incredibly realistic and paints such a graphic picture in your mind that you could see exactly what these woods looked like even with your eyes closed. I can’t stress enough how much you should use headphones for this game. Hearing the woods around you, especially with the lights off, is an experience all by itself.
What day is it?
On my first play through of Blair Witch I did get lost quite a few times. I also missed out on saving time by riding a mine cart around, instead running blindly through the woods. Because of this my run time was around 8 hours for my first play through. To be fair, it could have been a lot longer as I didn’t spend the time looking for collectibles. It didn’t feel like a long game so you don’t need to set aside a few days to enjoy what is on offer here. But there is reason to play through the game multiple times if, like me you missed a lot of collectibles. You could also try to get all four of the different endings the game has to offer.
On my first play, I got the ending where Ellis kills Carver and then sees his reflection in a nearby puddle. He has become Carver, and Bullet looks at you once before running off into the woods. I can’t deny I was disappointed with this ending. I thought I had been extra nice to Bullet, so why did he leave me? After a quick Google to get tips on achieving a different ending, I started up a new game and sped through it as quickly as I could, using the tips I had found online. I ignored my phone and radio, I stealthily avoided enemies instead of using my torch on them, I scolded Bullet (forgive me) and I didn’t carry him at all during the loop scene. This led to me getting the exact same ending. Sigh.
I’m not going to lie; this did leave me rather deflated. I guess the tips weren’t accurate or I messed up somehow? But it has at least made me more determined to get it right on my next play. I enjoy the game enough to play it again and again, so it’s not that much of a big deal. And I do enjoy a game that gives you reason to come back to it for more. I just wish I had gotten a better ending on my first play through. Unless they all end badly…
Witchcraft for beginners
Another element that surprised me about Blair Witch is that it isn’t actually that difficult. Other than getting lost a lot, the game is relatively easy to play. There aren’t a lot of puzzles to be found here, and when we do encounter one they are easy enough to solve without much effort. With there being so little fighting in the game, I expected a lot of really hard puzzles for Ellis to get his head around. Thinking back now I can only actually remember one puzzle, when you have to turn on the car headlights.
Other than that, there is the videotapes, which you use to manipulate your surroundings. But again with these, once you have done the first one, they are pretty easy to figure out. I expected the tapes to get more difficult as the game progressed but sadly they did not. They’re still a fun element of the game, they’re just not as challenging as I hoped for. The real challenge with Blair Witch is keeping your cool when things get scary and not getting lost.
After completing the game more than once now, and loving the majority of the experience, I can safely say my favorite element of the game is the references to the Blair Witch lore. It’s worth noting that about half way through the game it did dawn on me that this game is based more on the 2016 movie Blair Witch, as opposed to my original assumption that it was based on the original 1999 movie The Blair Witch Project. The clue is in the title, I’m a fool for not making that connection right away. But that doesn’t take away my love for the references.
The stick figures in the trees, the atmosphere of the woods at night, and especially the house. It all combined to make such a convincing experience, it could easily have been made by the film makers themselves. The game features elements of Blair Witch I didn’t realise right away too. The way time can shift at will, the trees seeming to move and live themselves, and the final scene of that film is also recreated when you have to face the corner yourself. The Witch is trying to make you turn and look at her and you have to fight to refuse her charms. It feels just like the ending of Blair Witch and is great for a fan to play through.
But there’s one final treat in store for the fans, and it’s taken directly out of the final scene from The Blair Witch Project. The basement. Anyone who watched the original film would find it hard to forget this basement. And while it doesn’t look exactly how I remember it, it’s still close enough to be a great touch for the fans. You spend a lot of time trying to get into the basement, with the house twisting and changing around you. So when you finally do it’s a great pay off to finally see this legendary setting for yourself.
As a huge fan of both the original 1999 film, the 2016 film, and even the 2000 film Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2 (gimme a break, I know it’s dreadful), this game ticked a lot of boxes for me. It looks like the film, it feels like the film, and according to Bullet it even smells like the film. There’s plenty of woods to explore and enough collectibles and endings to keep you coming back for more. And as a horror game, it ramps up the scares to levels I often had to pause to catch my breath. It does feel like this game missed a couple of opportunities in my opinion but that gives me a little glimmer of hope for a sequel. For now, I’m heading back into the woods to get those damn endings. l’ll be right back.