One of the things that I really liked about The Blair Witch Project was how it steadily unveiled creepy stimuli, building suspense without relying on a tangible threat. The most sinister thing is the idea of the Blair Witch and you see the students deteriorate into broken versions of themselves by the end of the film. Bloober Team’s Blair Witch attempts to achieve a similar goal however, it falls short as a result of its weak narrative, cheap scares and mismatched focus on a different kind of psychological trauma.
Blair Witch is equipped with all the necessary elements to stand up as a chilling tribute to its source material, yet I found it was unable to sustain tension long enough to truly grip me. The first three hours of the game held a lot of promise, with the eerie atmosphere in the forest and your dependence on your dog, Bullet, establishing your vulnerability. Early references to The Blair Witch Project such as the stick men and polaroids of people standing in the corner of a room also lead you to believe that you’re on a parallel journey to the other unfortunate souls that have wandered into the Black Hills Forest before you.
However, Blair Witch suffers as a result of Bloober Team’s decision to show you what lurks in the dark. The enemies that you see in the forest initially instill some fear, playing on the insecurities you have, equipped with nothing but a torch and a barking dog. Fearing the unknown and imagining what could happen is a more effective way of scaring players as your imagination is the limit. Unfortunately, this technique is abandoned later on in the game where you come into contact with twitchy silhouettes that will just grab you.
After you’ve been caught for the first time, you no longer fear these enemies as the worst they can do is send you back a few steps. These encounters were also inconsistent, as sometimes I would respawn just outside the room, to attempt passing the figures undetected again, and other times I would just bypass that encounter entirely. In some instances, being caught as a result of something that felt out of my control made me feel cheated, which made the entire house sequence feel very erratic. This broke any sense of foreboding and also served to dampen the delivery of subsequent jump scares.
As time goes on, we see the story shift from the rational lens – where we’re searching for a missing child – to the psychological breakdown of our character, Ellis. Throughout the game, we’re shown that Ellis regrets decisions he made in the past as a soldier and policeman, which led to multiple people dying. The forest becomes a twisted mess of reality, frequently disrupted by the violent flashbacks that fuel Ellis’ PTSD. While incorporating this type of psychological trauma makes sense, in theory, with Ellis’ biggest regrets and anxieties frequently returning to haunt him in a forest that he’s lost in, these segments felt awkwardly detached from the rest of the game. Ellis’ experience in the forest becomes very personal which pivoted so far away from the focus of the forest and the idea of the Blair Witch to the point where it didn’t really feel related to it anymore. The more the game focused on his PTSD, the less enjoyable it became for me.
Fast forward to the end of the game and you have a dissatisfying and abrupt conclusion that feels as though it rushes to tie loose ends together. The beauty of Blair Witch is that it’s open-ended by nature, which provides a lot of leeway for future stories set in the same universe. That said, at under six hours, Bloober Team’s attempts to clarify everything that has happened while establishing the concept of a cycle that can either be continued or broken by Ellis just feels half-hearted. Since finishing the game, I’ve also watched the other endings and none of them feel like a worthy pay-off.
While Bloober Team haven’t excelled in their execution of a Blair Witch-inspired experience, they’ve included mechanics that certainly make the overall experience more interesting. Being able to use the camcorder to find clues, move objects and open doors by rewinding and pausing tapes is an interesting way for players to manipulate their environment. In the latter portion of the game, the camcorder also becomes essential for traversing the house. Having an old mobile phone to receive creepy texts, listen to voicemails and even just play Snake on helped to ground the story in the 90s, making you feel even more helpless out in the woods.
I played on PC and unfortunately, the experience was far from polished. I was quite surprised that I couldn’t maintain 60FPS on my Ryzen 3900X, RTX 2080 build and the keyboard and mouse controls were very unreliable. Navigating some of the menus was impossible using the keyboard and I found that I had to double-tap some of the keys when scrolling through the texts on the mobile phone. In addition, I found that I got stuck in a doorway and had to plug in a controller in order to move. I also got stuck on a vehicle and had to restart from a previous save slot, losing a chunk of progress. It therefore goes without saying that you should manually save often, just in case this happens.
As someone who was really looking forward to Blair Witch, I was quite disappointed with it, overall. The game makes a number of references to the existing cinematic lore, but it’s focus on Ellis’ time in the army detracts from the core essence of the source material, taking it in a direction that didn’t really interest me. While it’s understandably challenging to retain the same level of suspense in a six hour game as you can achieve in a two hour film, the game felt awkwardly split into two uneven parts: with the first three hours building towards something potentially worthy of the Blair Witch name, and the final few hours shifting focus. The game’s performance also stifled my enjoyment with technical issues cropping up throughout my playthrough. While all of this means that I would not recommend this title, if you’re still dead set on giving it a go, I would urge you to do so using the Xbox Game Pass, rather than spending £25 on it on Steam. This isn’t a horror experience that requires your immediate attention.