I believe that it is common knowledge I love scary games, survival horror, scary movies, basically anything that attempts to give me a good fright. What I love even more is when a fan favorite movie franchise makes it way onto my Xbox One as a title developed by the Bloober Team, of Layers of Fear fame. Blair Witch is a love letter to the world that the first movie created and I’ve enjoyed my time in the woods with Ellis and Bullet. The game isn’t traditional survival horror, there are no items to inventory, hoards of enemies do not attack you, in Blair Witch you are for lack of a better term, screwed with. I loved every minute of my mind screw by these genius developers.
The game takes place between the first two movies, The Blair Witch Project and Blair Witch: Book of Shadows. If you want to learn some of the backstory before you play I would suggest watching The Blair Witch Project because the game mentions the events in that movie and you see a lot of the imagery throughout the forest. Don’t bother watching Book of Shadows, that pales in comparison to the original. You play as Ellis who’s story is told through flashbacks in the game, but let’s just say the poor man has some problems that he’s trying to overcome and his dog Bullet helps with that.
His ailment is a huge part of the game and intertwines with the story as you’re searching for a young boy who is missing in the woods, Peter. You start off all bright eyes and bushy tailed arriving to the search, but you arrive late and are subjected to following up the rear until things begin to get weird. You and Bullet begin to find articles that belonged to Peter, a campsite that the first wave of rescuers missed and a handheld camcorder. This camcorder is actually very important in the game, it allows you to find hints that progress you through the woods and deeper into the horror.
The controls of the game are quite simple, it is a first person horror adventure, you have a few items you can use and some commands to Bullet. If you hold down the Right Bumper you can switch through your items like the flashlight, the camcorder and so on. Holding down the Left Bumper allows you to issue commands to Bullet. Seeing as this game has no HUD, Bullet takes on that role, you must watch your dog to see where to go next and if there are enemies nearby.
Problem is you can lose track of Bullet very easily in the forest so you may die a few times because you can’t see where Bullet is barking. The weird enemies cannot be seen by the human eye, but Bullet can see them, so when he starts to growl at one aim your flashlight and hopefully you’ll damage the beast. This combat reminded me of Alan Wake‘s combat, but at least in Alan Wake you could see your enemy, here you must rely on Bullet. When you see an item to interact with you press Right Trigger, if you need to crouch you press B and Left Trigger zooms your line of vision in. Pretty basic right? I would caution you to change the camera sensitivity in the options menu, it was too fast for me at the outset, I lowered it considerably and it made my experience so much better.
Bloober Team is one of the best developers when it comes to atmosphere. When you start the game the woods are nice, well kept, everything is lush and full of life. Once you are on the trail to find Peter the woods become claustrophobic, ugly, barren and terrifying. I’ll give you an example, in real life I am pretty claustrophobic, there’s now way I would be able to spelunking, hell I use to have a hard time watching The Descent with my Dad. There’s a part in the game when Ellis is in a cave and moving forward, the walls begin to shrink in on him and he gets stuck.
That is my ultimate worst fear in life, to get stuck somewhere and slowly die because you cannot break free. I almost couldn’t function during that part as I sat in my chair. I was stuck for awhile until I figured out how to break free but I could feel the anxiety well up in me. Needless to say I was relieved when I escaped the cave portion of the game.
One of the most creative mechanics of this game is the use of the camcorder. You find VHS tapes with Bullet throughout the forest and certain ones with a red label can do special things. Before I continue on let me explain what a VHS tape is to our younger readers. Back before digital, DVD, Blu-Ray and 4K there was a little thing called the VHS tape. You could record on it with certain devices and accidentally tape over things if you weren’t careful. VHS tapes were our digital camera of the 80’s, 90’s and early 2000’s.
This game takes place in 1996 so VHS is relevant and an important aspect of the game. Back to the red tapes though, those tapes are special when you watch them in the right spot in the woods and pause the video at a certain moment you gain access to clues that allow you to progress through the game. Once you find one of those clues you can press the left bumper and Bullet will lead you to your next destination. The camera also allows you to spot enemies in the endgame, where it is a case of cat and mouse. You must avoid these creature at all costs by not looking at them and using the camera to find the safe trail. This got a bit annoying at parts because you cannot see anything through the camera at some points. You’ll die a bit here, but at least the checkpoints are very forgiving.
I was excited for this game when I saw the trailer at E3 this year, and the hype did not disappoint. I was disappointed that there was no physical release, but I was pumped that it was part of GamePass so that I could actually play it on day one, I rarely get to do that anymore. If you have GamePass or thirty dollars too drop on a download only game I cannot impress upon you enough how you NEED to play this game. If you love horror, if you’re a fan of the film franchise or if you just feel like having the crap scared out of you one night, BUY THIS GAME! The only drawbacks that I could find are the lack of a HUD, the fact that Bullet is hard to find sometimes, and the visuals aren’t are amazing as they should be. The graphics get the job done, but we’ve all played Resident Evil VII and we know how great a first person horror title could look. I will tell you though, this is one trip to the woods you want to take, but don’t forget the toilet paper.
Microsoft and Lionsgate Games have teamed up for their first venture. Is it actually scary or scary because it is a licensed game?
- Amazing atmosphere
- Controlling Bullet is really fun and innovative
- This game is better than Book of Shadows
- Graphics aren't as amazing as they could be
- No HUD
- Bullet can be hard to find which may cost you lives
- Stealth parts of the game can get very frustrating