The Blair Witch Project was more than a movie, it was a phenomenon. It took horror to a new level, blurring the line between reality and fiction. I was only a child when it came out, but I vividly remember the debates in the school yard about whether or not it was real. I had no doubts in my mind that it was, going so far as to avoid my own wooded backyard in Texas, thinking it could have been filmed there.
After a series of questionable sequels, new life has finally been breathed into the horror classic via a simple first person video game from Bloober, simply titled Blair Witch, that takes the found footage format to the next level by putting you in the driver’s seat, alone in the Blacks Hills Forest outside the little town of Burkittsville, Maryland, hunted by something unknown. The result is one of the more terrifying horror games I have ever played, and a must-have of all your spooky season festivities.
The Tortured Cop and His Loyal Companion
In this take on the Blair Witch, you play as ex-soldier and troubled cop named Ellis. Accompanied by his loyal dog, Bullet, you enter the infamous woods with a mission to find a missing child. Ellis is desperate to prove his worth. He could best be described as someone with the best intentions but the worst execution, and finding this little boy is going to be his redemption. His fresh start. Unfortunately for Ellis, his plans seem doomed early on as the stress from the search and the evil lurking in the woods bring out the worst of his inner demons, feeding off of his survivor’s guilt and PTSD in a series of fever dream-like flashbacks to his own haunted past.
You come for the witch, but you stay for the dog. The game smartly throws an emotional curveball at you in the form of Ellis’s service dog and resident Goodest Boy, Bullet. You may not care for the doomed humans in a horror movie, but dammit you are not going to be part of the story where the dog dies! Bullet is more than just a sweet face. He is actually one of the most essential aspects of the gameplay, serving not only as Ellis’s only source of sanity, but his barks and growls, and yes, sometimes cries, warn you that evil is lurking nearby. Without getting into spoilers, Bullet is the only good thing in Ellis’s life, and their relationship throughout the story is what takes this game to the next level. This is not some mindless horror game, it is an emotional roller coaster.
Elements of the Game
One of the most important components of the game is the video camera. For the first half of the game, the camera is used as a means of changing reality. Initially, the purpose of the camera is not explained very well. Luckily, unlike the poor souls trapped in the woods, you have access to the internet. Having to consult the internet during such a simple game to learn how basic mechanics work is not ideal, and I do wish they would have done a better job explaining the mechanics of the camera. Akin to having to pause a movie to answer your phone, it led us to being temporarily taken out of the ambience of the game. However, once we realized what we were doing wrong it was smooth sailing. Later on in the game, the camera is used as your primary method for viewing the world around you, and I feel like this is when the game really takes the dive from spooky to terrifying.
If you are already a fan of horror games, Blair Witch is similar to 2010’s Amnesia. You are constantly battling internal and external demons with no real means of defense. Light is some of your only safety…at first. The mind-bending and rule-changing of this game knows no bounds and soon you start to question everything. There is a lot of running and sneaking and trying desperately to cling to Bullet and the flashlight to keep from going insane. How you treat Bullet is one of the “choices” that you have and it can have a large effect on how much Bullet can help you through the increasingly intense mental breakdowns. Although, anyone who doesn’t choose to give Bullet all the treats and pets for saving your ass and being the best boy can suffer as far as I am concerned. If there is an alternate ending that you can only reach through treating Bullet poorly, it is safe to say that I will never see it.
A Game for Non-Gamers
The mechanics of the game are incredibly simple. This is not a game exclusively for gamers. I myself am not a regular Xbox player, and found no issue diving in with a foreign controller. Besides running in terror, there is no fast-paced button pushing or complicated combos. Blair Witch is the latest in a video game trend of playable horror movies. It feels more like guiding than gaming. You are here for the story and you are here to be scared, and it delivers. The game itself is short, taking only a few terrifying hours to complete, and I would definitely advise that you play it straight through. One of the biggest components to this game is the feeling of being utterly and completely lost in the woods. There are no level maps, and almost everything looks the same, so trying to dive back into it after a day will only make you more disoriented. A mistake that I unfortunately made.
Blair Witch has multiple endings, but I wouldn’t necessarily call it a choose your own adventure story. To be honest, it doesn’t really feel like you get to choose your path at all. I don’t say that as a negative, if anything it adds to the hopeless desperation that made the original movie so good. It feels like the game is fighting against you. It wants you to fail, and by fail I mean meet the worst, most horrifying, ending possible for poor Ellis and Bullet. Don’t fight it. Play the game. Do what you think you are supposed to. There is time for happy endings later.
You can have just as much fun being a spectator to this game as the one with the controller in your hand. If anything, being a spectator will make you feel more like you are watching a Blair Witch movie, because you don’t have any control in the chaos. The game is recommended to be played with headphones on to fully surround yourself with all of the creepy sounds and fully embrace the isolation. I set out to play it in a more social setting and it made for the perfect friendly fright night and horror movie marathon alternative. Just make sure you have surround sound for the best group experience.
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