This is an arena where Bloober Team excel. Crafting tense horror experiences that aren’t necessarily about big jump scares, and instead opt for some very tense moments. Blair Witch has this in spades. Set pieces are tense, with an overwhelming dark presences pervading every inch of the woods. It doesn’t succeed in everything it does, but Blair Witch is a great entry in the team’s horror portfolio.
To be honest, I expected Blair Witch to be scarier. I’ve already mentioned how tense the set pieces are, but I never thought I’d want more jump scares. After a certain point, tension only goes so far in a horror game, and there needs to be some sort of horror payoff. I’m going to avoid spoilers, but the last couple hours of the game were pretty scary, I just wish it hadn’t taken so long to get there.
All in all, Blair Witch isn’t a very long experience, much like Layers of Fear 1 & 2 it clocks in around the six-hour mark. Even Man of Medan seemed to have better pacing, even if they ultimately are paced similarly. Things kick off with a man named Ellis driving into the woods. He’s heading out to search for a missing boy, and enters the Black Hills woods to find him.
Ellis only has a few tools at his disposal: a camera, a flashlight, and a radio. The radio is mostly story related, while the other two are more useful gameplay tools. In fact, one of them actually affects how the game ends, which was a pretty cool mechanic. I’m not sure how many endings there are to Blair Witch though. The camera was probably the most interesting though. Throughout Ellis’ search for the boy he comes across tapes that can alter reality. These are used to solve puzzles and change the environment around him to access new areas or find a specific clue. I wish there were more of these because this mechanic was what really set Blair Witch apart from other similar titles.
Probably even more important than anything that Ellis has at hand is his dog Bullet. Bullet is equal parts useful and frustrating, but man’s best friend is adorable throughout. Bullet acts mostly of his own accord, but can be given commands that are often useful. He alerts Ellis to the presence of enemies, and can be sent searching for key items. Pretty regularly he would even run up to me with something to interact with, even though I had no idea he was out looking for something.
It’s a good thing that he alerts players to the presence of enemies too, because if he didn’t I would even know they were there. The music changes a bit when threatened, but the score changes so often in Blair Witch, that it’s hard to tell when something is about to happen from entering into an encounter. The flashlight is the key to defeating monsters, a la Alan Wake, but the encounters often devolved into me spinning in circles trying to find the creatures instead of a tactical encounter.
A lot of this seems to be due to the design of Blair Witch. A lot of the forest looks similar, and with thick groves of trees throughout, it’s often hard to decipher what is an enemy and what is a tree or branch. The drab color design here doesn’t help things, and while Blair Witch isn’t an ugly game, the visual design leaves something to be desired.
Blair Witch is just as much a journey about psychological trauma as it is about finding a missing child. Ellis has plenty of demons in his past that he has a hard time moving on from. Bullet plays a key role in this. As his emotional support dog if Ellis spends too much time exploring apart from him, he’ll start having traumatic experiences. Bullet’s commands mean he can be called at any time, so while not often imperative that you stay close to him, it’s an important thing to remember.
I just wish that a lot of the experience wasn’t just walking through the woods. The puzzles are generally well built, and there are plenty of secrets hidden in the forest, but most of the time spent in Blair Witch is just wandering around. If I wasn’t looking for hidden secrets, my time with it would have been significantly shorter. However, I think that if someone picks this up they know what they’re in for and are planning on scouring every nook.
Surprisingly, Blair Witch on PC doesn’t run incredibly well. It ran okay, which is about all I can give it. Even on 1440p, I was maxed out at 60 fps at the highest, and 45 fps at the lowest. For comparison, I’m currently running Gears 5 at 110+ fps with my 3700x and RTX 2080, so I know it isn’t hardware related.
The story in Blair Witch is what I was expecting, and the double narrative works in its favor. The real disappointment here is the horror factor, which I had high hopes for. I know Bloober Team know how to craft a really terrifying experience, which is why it’s so frustrating that their first foray into a movie adaptation feels smooth around the edges. The tension pervades, but doesn’t really pay off until the final act of the game.