Bloober Team of Layers of Fear fame finally got themselves a fancy licensed title so let's see if it offers a worthwhile horror experience.
Blair Witch has you play as an ex-police officer who decides to help search for a missing boy in the woods. What could possibly go wrong? The story takes place in the mid-'90s and you're equipped with an era-appropriate cell phone as well as a radio that you can use to communicate with an officer who's also on the search. Although this is a simple premise, the story evolves into a crazy web of insanity and I definitely don't want to spoil anything further than that. However, I will say that the opening moments of the campaign leave a great first impression and lay the foundation for a promising tale to unfold but do the following events live up to this solid premise?
Before getting to the review, allow me to say that I'm far from a hardened horror game fan. In fact, I usually get so scared with games like this that I can't finish them. For example, I could not play through P.T. entirely and the PSVR demo for Transference scared the ever-loving crap out of me. With that in mind, I finished Blair Witch with no problem at all and I'll explain why in a bit.
Blair Witch is played by walking around the forest in a first-person perspective and the only substantial character that you interact with is your dog bullet. Yes, you can pet the dog. Anyway, you'll spend a good chunk of the first part of the campaign merely wandering around while looking for clues, following your dog after you give him an object to smell then command him to seek, and talking to a few folks via your communication devices. Soon into the journey, you'll find a camcorder that you can pause at certain moments in order to manipulate the environment. For example, pausing before someone closes a door will have that door open within the game world.
Needless to say, both Bullet and the camcorder are fantastic mechanics that make the gameplay more varied. That being said, interacting with and following the dog has its novelty wear thin quite early on and the camcorder is severely underutilized. In fact, you only ever have to use it to manipulate the world a handful of times throughout the entire campaign.
The vast majority of Blair Witch has you aimlessly wander around in order to eventually discover something that progresses the plot. Some portions are more straightforward than others but you'll still spend hours upon hours not knowing what to do or where to go unless you resort to using a guide. The campaign is basically divided into 4 portions: the forest, a part where you have to guide a trolley along some branching tracks which involves one of the most tedious processes that I've ever experienced, the forest again except it's shrouded in mist, and a dilapidated house which is definitely the scariest part of the entire game yet it still manages to fall flat.
That's right; Blair Witch has you on edge at times and there are jump scares but the sense of fear eventually dissolves for a plethora of reasons. First, you spend so much time in any given area that you get accustomed to the atmosphere so it eventually stops being eerie altogether. Next, the jump scares aren't effective because you never really face any real danger from start to finish. There are monsters that you can easily kill by merely shining your flashlight at them but even if one kills you, you'll simply respawn basically right where you left off so who cares? There was only 1 jump scare in the entire game that shocked me and it wasn't even in a scary situation.
Another aspect that took me out of the experience is that Ellis, the character that you play as, isn't a likeable person at all. If you want me to be immersed in your horror game, why do you have me control some brash idiot who doesn't even know how to talk to his wife or deal with his own psychological and personal problems? Without giving anything substantial away, allow me to say that after scenes revealed information about Ellis' past actions, I literally couldn't care less about what happened to this idiot.
As the plot unfolds, it becomes less about finding the missing boy and more about abstract scenarios where Ellis is having a severe mental breakdown. Plus, at one point early in the story, I turned to my wife and said, "I bet this is what happens" and she replied, "Yeah, I was thinking that, too." To our surprise, we were both right and our prediction was unveiled in the very final moment of the story.
On the plus side, Blair Witch features loads of collectibles and replay value. As far as I can see, there are 2 primary endings. In order to get the good ending, you have to play through the entire campaign while following a strict list of rules but honestly, I have no desire to do that after trudging through the campaign once already. Along your journey, you can collect dog tags, psychiatrist's notes, victim photos, wooden dolls, totems, and even trash. There are also shiny achievements for collecting all of each kind of item. Considering how expansive the locations are, trying to collect everything will take a very long time so if you just can't get enough of slowly walking around dimly lit environments while searching every nook and cranny then you'll be more than satisfied.
Blair Witch is more of an exercise in tedium than it is an immersive atmospheric horror experience. There are some clever mechanics and a ton of replay incentives yet the campaign manages to derail from its promising premise thus making the rest of the story fall flat.
- + Great premise leaves a solid first impression
- + The camcorder and dog are nifty mechanics that add some welcome variety
- + Lots of collectibles and replay value
- - Too much tedious wandering / lame puzzles
- - Unlikeable protagonist and a plot that devolves into predictable malarkey
- - Ineffective atmosphere and jump scares