1999’s Blair Witch Project was somewhat of an anomalous movie in a couple of ways. Not only was it one of the rare American horror films which incorporated subtlety (as opposed to showing you the antagonists up front), it also kick-started the whole found footage/shaky cam craze that legions of filmmakers would copy for years to come.
I thought it was great—it scared you by utilizing your imagination rather than being too overt. In other words, what you couldn’t see was scarier than what you could. For instance, during the second act of the film, one of the campers in the woods goes missing. His companions find some of his bloody teeth and hair, but not much else. Later, they hear what sounds like him moaning from somewhere off in the woods; begging for help. That’s just plain creepy.
When I’d heard about Bloober Team’s new horror take on the Blair Witch legend, I was pretty stoked. After all, these are the same game developers who made the psychological horror masterpiece, Layers of Fear.
The game returns to the Black Hills forest of Burkittsville, Maryland, just like the film. However, the game takes place a couple of years after the events of the film. You play as Ellis, a former soldier and cop who is searching for a missing boy. Unfortunately, Ellis suffers from PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) so you’ll witness some pretty trippy dream-like sequences ala Layers of Fear, throughout the game.
The game starts out perfectly. The forest is hauntingly beautiful by day. Autumnal leaves crackle underfoot and the trees themselves are both large and stoic as their thick branches tower overhead. Birds chirp as they glide through the air and winding creeks babble in the background. One thing that the devs got right about Blair Witch is the atmosphere.
Eventually, the dimmer switch is hit and everything becomes cloaked in darkness. The once stoic trees now seem sinister and closed in, and the feeling of vastness becomes much more claustrophobic and intrusive. You’ll definitely feel the tension rise.
However, as soon as you think you’ve struck horror gold, things start to detract from this brilliant setup. Invisible walls are oh-not-so-subtle ways of prodding your forward through the game’s rather linear path and you’ll find yourself constantly looking for clues behind every rock and shrub.
Ellis has a couple of ways of contacting other characters within the game’s world; his cellphone and a three channel walkie-talkie. In an interesting gaming mechanic twist, who you make and answer calls from affects how your particular game plays out.
Other contributing factors that impact the game’s conclusion are how you treat your trusty canine side-kick, Bullet, as well as what you do when you come across scattered twig-things (the ones made famous in the film) that you’ll encounter throughout the game.
Bullet is relatively well-trained and will (for the most part) obey your commands. He’ll search areas for items that may be important and then return to whatever position you ordered him from. If you’re the cold-hearted type you might reprimand him for not carrying out your orders perfectly enough. But if you’re an animal lover like me, you’ll praise the pooch as he barks happily on.
Towards the end of this rather short horror experience (it can be completed in about 3.5 hours), all of the paranormal activities begin to pick up in frequency. There are a few jump scares here and there, but Blair Witch’s real scares are the ones you peek around a gloomy-looking tree or enter through a creaky door; in other words, fear of the unknown.
Blair Witch has some pretty nice looking graphics that make its horror-based gameplay truly shine. However, you want to have a pretty beefy gaming PC or gaming laptop in order to play it at a decent framerate. So, you may just want to invest in a decent gaming rig:
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