Lost And found
HIGH It nails the feel of the Blair Witch house.
LOW The motion sickness.
WTF Owning a videogame dog.
I was there on the opening day of The Blair Witch Project. It was my first encounter with ‘found footage’ films, and it popularized the format.
The games that followed – a blocky trilogy of Alone in the Dark clones – weren’t the same revelation as the film, and the same could be said for the movie sequel that fell back into standard psychological horror.
With the Blair bubble burst, I wasn’t convinced there was much more to see from the franchise, but Bloober Team’s take on the IP addresses that stagnation.
Known for their first-person exploration titles, it’s no surprise that Bloober Team have molded Blair Witch in the same vein, but this time there’s a dog.
The story follows Ellis Lynch as he gets involved in the search for a missing child set two years after the first film. Ellis is a former cop and a veteran, and he has flashbacks that are interspersed with segments of Lynch and his faithful dog Bullet exploring the woods.
There is very little action in Blair Witch. There are a few cool time manipulation puzzles using a video camera and some stealth sections in almost pitch-black darkness avoiding creatures, but otherwise, it’s about creating mood through exploration.
This is something that Bloober are experts at — the shifts between growing unease and startling scares, to moments of short calm that are pulled away and replaced by utter dread are all cleverly threaded.
A perfect example is the final section of Blair Witch in which Lynch arrives at the iconic house from the film. I’d gotten increasingly freaked out by the mental images Lynch was suffering from, a mixture of his warzone-induced PTSD, the mazelike woods and the apparitions that had chased me throughout. There was a moment of quiet in a windswept copse, and in a flash the house itself was revealed.
At that point I realized that things were going to get worse.
Previous Bloober games focused on solitary exploration, but they successfully break way from that by developing a bond between Lynch and his dog, Bullet.
Commands are kept simple. The player can command Bullet to stay near them, to ‘seek’ (this helps with finding collectibles, as well guiding the player through open exploration areas) or he can come right up for a treat and a petting.
The devs have imbued real personality into Bullet — he runs alongside the player at all times, runs forward to bark at threats, and sometimes disappears entirely, which filled me with worry for his safety. Without Bullet, the experience would be missing a vital piece of its soul.
If there’s a point of contention to be had with Blair Witch, it has to do with the engine.
Turning too quickly made it look like the background took time to ‘catch up’ with the motion. There were also several v-sync issues, even running on Xbox One X. The result is that I struggled to play for longer than 30 minutes at a time before getting crushing headaches and motion sickness — something I’ve not previously experienced in my life. Ironically, it turned a game I would have wholeheartedly recommended into one that now comes with the asterisk of ‘as long as it doesn’t make you violently ill.’
Blair Witch is a successful videogame translation of what made the original film so haunting. It doesn’t move far outside the dev team’s comfort zone, but the warmth of the relationship between a man and his dog almost made it worth fighting through the motion sickness it gave me.
Disclosures: This game is developed by Bloober Team NA and published by Bloober Team. It is currently available on PS4, XBO, PC and Switch. This copy of the game was obtained via Game Pass and reviewed on the XBO-X. Approximately 10 hours of play were devoted to the single-player mode, and the game was completed. There are no multiplayer modes.
Parents: According to the ESRB, this game is rated M and contains Blood and Gore, Strong Language and Intense Violence. The game is absolutely terrifying — there are moments of violence with people being shot graphically, and creeping, hulking death monsters. There is copious amount of swearing and some unsettling portrayals of PTSD. This completely earns its rating.
Colorblind Modes: There are no colorblind modes available in the options, but it is possible to change the color of the text.
Deaf & Hard of Hearing Gamers: There are visual cues for a lot of things. However, there might be some difficulty with late game cues in warzones. Subtitles can be resized, and there are different styles to them to make them more legible.
Remappable Controls: No, this game’s controls are not remappable. The Y Axis can be inverted.