Tie-ins don’t have the best reputation in games, with many falling far short of the mark, but Blair Witch defies expectation.
It’s unquestionably a creepy game, with violence and horror peppered throughout, but nothing really prepares you for its final chapters. It certainly takes you on a journey. For better and worse, one that bears more than a passing resemblance to the source material it’s based on.
Blair Witch is one of the better movie tie-ins I’ve played and if you’ve got Xbox GamePass and fancy a bit of a scare, you absolutely must make the time to play.
For the most part, it’s a game of search and discovery with ex-cop Ellis and his trained search dog, Bullet searching for a missing child.
Their bond and partnership make up the majority of the story, with several other characters making their presence felt throughout, like Ellis’ boss, the Sheriff, and his estranged partner, Jess.
But as you start to explore the Black Hills Forest, made infamous through the classic films, events really start to take a chilling turn.
What’s most interesting about Bloober Teams’ efforts here is how seperate this is from those films. It’s a self-contained story with only some hints and easter eggs here and there.
When I spoke to the team at Gamescom, they actually made this point and said unlike other tie-ins, they’ve focused on the essence of the films and what made them unique rather than try to recreate them.
And I have to say it works. Unlike other tie-ins, I really enjoyed the majority of Blair Witch. Bullet is one of the most responsive and lovable AI companions I’ve spent time with in a game.
There’s some fascinating puzzle-solving, particularly involving a camcorder picked up early on which lets you see things that have previously happened in the woods and how they can affect what happens now.
The flashlight mechanic is also an interesting inclusion, though perhaps doesn’t work quite as well as Bloober would have hoped. Despite Bullet sniffing out and glaring at enemies, it’s not always clear where to aim.
Basically, it works in a similar way to Alan Wake in that you have to shine a flashlight on your enemies, but instead of just stunning them, it actually kills them outright.
Bullet is supposed to orient you and show you where to aim. The problem is his sense of direction feels slightly off at times, though you do need to be quick as enemies won’t wait for you.
For the most part, though, your AI companion plays his role perfectly. He’ll stick around for cuddles, will sniff out clues from the evidence you pick up, and even clamber into tight spaces to retrieve items for you.
There’s no guns here you can use, or knives to fight with. In fact, the entire experience flows with a mix of stealth, speed, and smarts.
Ellis will pick up a Walkie Talkie to communicate with fellow officers, use the aforementioned camcorder to piece together the story, and read texts / receive calls from Jess on his mobile.
Hell, you can even play Snake on it with the same kind of slowed controls you’d expect from a phone of its time. Nice touch.
Blair Witch is pretty short. The opening chapters seem to whizz by with the mystery keeping you hooked. I managed to blaze through the whole thing in a day, but that’s mostly because I couldn’t put the game down and also because it’s relatively linear.
The interesting thing about Blair Witch, though, is that there are multiple outcomes so it is replayable. Your actions are monitored throughout the game, but there’s no clear defining moment that seems to determine what ending you get.
I say that, but I definitely felt like I impacted some of my ending with my actions during one chapter in particular.
Without delving into spoilers, I’ll just say that Bloober Team like to take their time with the player during certain sections. And when I say take their time, I mean drag you through familiar sets of events in order to really drive a message home. To the point of being painful and the game starting to lose itself.
Perhaps I’ll do a follow-up article in a week or two when you’ve had a chance to play so I can properly crack into some of this.
There’s quite a few frame rate issues here, most of them coming during scene transitions. The game tries to naturally blend cut scenes by using the engine itself, though some of the game’s big actions aren’t actually playable. Which is frustrating.
And sometimes you’ll find the screen is a bit too dark, to the point where you can’t see where you’re supposed to be going. Though much of this is done for dramatic effect, to really mess with the players’ mindset. One minute, you’re walking straight, the next you’re veering left.
That does bring me to a strength of Blair Witch. From an atmospheric and action point of view, Bloober have absolutely nailed the source material, smartly using some of its staples to create effective, well-implemented mechanics.
Being able to see ethereal spirits on the camcorder, while manipulating things in the environment is a neat way to pay homage to what you’ve seen in the films.
And from a horror point of view, there’s some real get under your skin moments in Blair Witch. It constantly feels like Bloober is taunting and teasing the player, testing them at every opportunity.
If you love that kind of thing, you definitely want to turn the lights out and put some headphones in for this one.
As horror games go, it’s definitely one of the most well put together this year. Frankly, Blair Witch fans couldn’t ask for a better 20 Year Anniversary Gift. If you have GamePass, you absolutely must check this out. Even though it can be finished in a few hours, unlike other horror games, this one will actually give you something to think about.
Halloween just came early.
Blair Witch is out today on PC and Xbox One. The game is available as part of Xbox GamePass
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