You wait ages for two high-profile horror adventures, and two come along in the same week. We’ve already checked out The Dark Pictures: Man of Medan, now it’s the turn of Blair Witch - the first game based on the horror franchise in nearly 20 years, made by Layers of Fear developer Bloober Team. The big question is then, which is the best scary game this week? Or are they both equally great? Well… no. Guess which one comes up short.
The Blair Witch game is set sometime after the events of the first movie, although there are only a smattering of references to it throughout the game. You play as Ellis, an ex-cop and ex-soldier who’s clearly going through some emotional problems - which, of course, will literally come back to haunt him. Ellis and his dog Bullet are in the Burkittsville woods as part of a search party, looking for a lost young boy. Then things go south very, very fast.
There are multiple gameplay mechanics at play in Blair Witch, but if you’re thinking this is going to be some huge in-depth survival horror, think again. The game took us all of 5 hours to finish, and that’s with some issues we’ll mention in a minute. Despite the pretensions towards being more open with more things going on, Blair Witch is just as much of a linear haunted house simulator as Layers of Fear - which becomes more obvious when you get to the actual linear haunted house.
There are three main gameplay types throughout Blair Witch. The first is the nicest (and least utilised), and that’s your dog Bullet. He can sniff out useful items, grab or dig for inaccessible objects, track paths after getting a scent, and warn you of danger. Bullet’s wonderful, well-animated, and he makes Blair Witch so much more relatable and just generally good - but in terms of gameplay, there are very few points where you need him to progress. There’s even a ‘Reprimand’ function which is utterly unnecessary.
The other two major elements involve the camcorder. Appropriately for a series based around found footage, in fact you literally find videotaped footage in various places and can review. These are used to create the rather cool time-displacement mechanic you can play about with - you can rewind or pause footage to undo the events, such as finding a locked door and going through footage to pause on a moment when it’s open. It’s a fantastic idea that could’ve been the basis for an entire game, instead it never gets beyond being basically a switch to flip to continue the game.
Slightly more successful is using the camcorder to pick up hidden things in the environment - most notably hints towards the correct path, creepy notes, and monsters. This mechanic only appears near the end of the game, and is most notably used in the Rustin Parr house. It certainly could’ve been used a lot more, and put to even more creepy effect, but it doesn’t feel wasted at least.
Unlike the woodland setting, which absolutely does. Now, this feels a stupid thing to complain about in a Blair Witch game, as this is kind of the main theme of the movies - but it’s really annoying to get lost in the woods. The game isn’t open-world, but you often find yourself in forest areas with a lot of paths and no clue whatsoever on where you need to go. At one point I was wandering about the same section for what must’ve been 30 minutes. It was boring, frustrating, and if I hadn’t been reviewing the game I would’ve uninstalled. It felt like I was in a horror movie - and not in a good way.
The other big problem with Blair Witch is that, well, it’s not very scary. I say this as a big horror fan, who’s seen all the Blair Witch movies in cinemas (yes, even Book of Shadows), and really enjoyed Layers of Fear 2. There were plenty of moments in the game where more could’ve been done to build tension or unease. Those moments where I was frustratedly wandering around the woods? Why did I never feel like I was being hunted or watched, or seeing things out of the corner of my eye? The same goes for the monsters. They’re mostly predictable - and while I like the ones you can’t look at, Amnesia: The Dark Descent did that trick far, far creepier. Blair Witch produces annoyance more than fear.
Processor: Intel Core i7-4770 @ 3.4 GHz or AMD Ryzen 5 1600 @ 3.2 GHz or equivalent
Memory: 8 GB RAM
Graphics: GeForce GTX 1070 / AMD Radeon RX 590
Our system is an AMD FX-8300 Six-Core Processor, 16 Gb RAM, Nvidia GTX 1050 Ti 4Gb, and Windows 10 64-Bit, and it ran Blair Witch with no problems with everything on full. It’s not a particularly graphics-intensive game but it does look good for the most part - some of the creatures look excellent, for example. There are some nice atmospheric effects as you go on, too.
Unfortunately there are a fair few bugs as well, which hopefully will get stomped out with patches. The most notable being characters getting caught on scenery. I’ve seen Bullet get stuck on all manner of things, including halfway up a tree, so I just had to press on and leave him alone - barking all the way. What’s worse is when the teleporting monsters get stuck. I’ve got at least one shot of a terrifying creature lodged in a window - so the intense music got more annoying than scary after a while. Which sums up Blair Witch well.
BLAIR WITCH VERDICT
Despite being a fan of Bloober Team’s games, Blair Witch just doesn’t really work. There are far too many moments where you’re just wandering around frustrated in a forest trying to find something to do, and very few moments where the game does something unexpected to scare you. Clever gameplay ideas like the time-changing camcorder go pretty much to waste. Most importantly, despite a few good scares, in general Blair Witch isn’t really scary enough. It has really good storytelling moments and buckets of atmosphere, but we were ultimately left disappointed. It’s better than the 2000 Blair Witch games, at least.
TOP GAME MOMENT
Other than every interaction with Bullet? Finally making it to the Rustin Parr house.
Bullet the dog is a wonderful companion who adds real stakes
Incredibly atmospheric with some great effects
Some great scares, with some cool storytelling
Too many moments where you’ll just be wandering bored and frustrated
Most of the cool gameplay mechanics are underutilised
Not actually that scary
Bugs such as monsters getting stuck on scenery
About Chris J Capel
Chris joined us in 2011 and loves Star Wars, comics and bad videogame movies.