Blair Witch has a coloured history - in terms of games, movies, and in-game lore. A couple of the movies are good, and the games veer between “not bad” and “terrible and completely miss the point”. In other words, as well-known as the franchise is, The Blair Witch Project has more duds than successes.
Enter the new Blair Witch game from Layers of Fear and Observer developer Bloober Team, which is hoping to be the first great Blair Witch game ever - and the third good Blair Witch thing in general. We got a short hands-on with the game in advance of its release, and it’s shaping up to be just that. Hopefully.
The general story, at least what we’re aware of it, is that your character (and your dog, Bullet) is in the woods searching for a lost kid named Peter Shannon - and you’re running a little late, so your goal is to catch up with the other search teams. You pick up a radio and make contact - but presumably you never actually find the other teams, as the woods have other plans for you.
Blair Witch is divided into multiple chapters, all seemingly with different gameplay styles. We got to play snippets of each of these chapters, and they had one thing in common - they were terrifying, or at least very very very creepy.
The first chapter was the least scary - it was the introduction. The main character Ellis pulls up to the campsite in the woods around Burkittsville, and explores a bit. Here you can find details about Peter Shannon, pick up your radio, make a call to your partner, play with Bullet… and find some weird pictures and totems scattered around. The one thing you won’t find, however, is people. Then you make the unwise decision to head into the woods...
The thing that really separates Blair Witch from Layers of Fear, and most other horror games, is Bullet. Aside from being your companion for, well, most of Blair Witch (no spoilers, although he suspiciously disappeared in our playthrough), Bullet is helpful in finding your way, keeping you sane, and alerting you to danger. He’s also a very good boy, and you can pet him. However, if there are monsters close, make sure to get him to stay close. Yes, monsters.
Which brings us on to Chapter 2, after Ellis has ill-advisedly entered the woods (not a good call). Things get foggy, and murky, Bullet gets increasingly distressed… then a giant ball of light tried to kill me - which may be familiar to fans of the most recent Blair Witch movie. This sequence reminded me most of the chase sequences in Layers of Fear 2, albeit with a bit more of an open area - to my detriment. Blair Witch is not free-roaming, and while you have a little freedom of exploration - in general, you need to stick to the path laid out for you. Or you’ll die, as I did.
This was a cool sequence however, with a truly unknown, alien threat pursuing me as the woods cracked, shifted, twisted, and eventually lead me to a giant tree in the forest - that I had to venture into the dark tunnels underneath to survive. Here’s where things got truly scary, as figures and faces appeared in the dark.
Then I shifted to Chapter 3, and met the real monsters (AAAHH!!!) for the first time. Things got very dark, and Bullet was clearly disturbed by something in the woods - as was I, the moment I saw a pair of hands reaching around a tree trunk at me. It was here the game got very Alan Wake, as I had to fend off these Slender-like shadow creatures with a flashlight.
Beyond this was a couple of small huts, and a really cool gameplay mechanic - time and space manipulation via found footage. After finding a couple of locked doors and unable to progress, I picked up a tape to use in my character’s camcorder. You don’t just watch the footage and get extra lore (although there is that), you can freeze the footage to get clues - or use it to change the world around you. For example, if I found a moment in the footage where those locked doors were open, they would suddenly become open in the real world too. It’s a really cool mechanic.
After this point, however, the game shifted to the final chapter - the iconic Rustin Parr house. This is when the game got the most Layers of Fear, and the most scary. Every single step in this house was filled with tension and terror, jumping at every noise and closing door, as I just waited for something to happen. And it did, absolutely, eventually. The camera was instrumental in the terror, highlighting things I couldn’t see in the real world. Including a creature that I wasn’t allowed to look at directly...
Blair Witch comes out very soon, on August 30 in fact, for PC and Xbox One only. Yes, it’s on Steam.
Blair Witch seems to have the scares and the fears-of-the-unknown from the movies down pat, so already it’s the best Blair Witch game out there. If we have a concern, it’s the play time. It’s not a long game, probably comparable to the Layers of Fear titles (5-7 hours roughly), and yet each chapter introduces some really cool ideas - like only being able to see things in a camcorder, having to direct your dog, or rewinding found footage to change the environment.
We’re not worried that Bloober Team can create a satisfying and scary game in that amount of time - they did it in Layers of Fear, and less often means more when it comes to scary games - but we are worried these cool ideas will go to waste. We want a whole game based around the environment-altering camcorder, not a couple of puzzles. Regardless, we’re greatly anticipating Blair Witch - even if we’re left staring silently in the corner after playing it.
Most Anticipated Feature
Seeing more of the iconic Parr house. It’s Bloober Team doing what it does best.
About Chris J Capel
Chris joined us in 2011 and loves Star Wars, comics and bad videogame movies.