The Blair Witch Project was a smash hit found-footage horror movie released in 1999, followed by a crummy sequel in 2000 that eschewed much of what made the original popular in the first place. There was a second sequel in 2016 -- confusingly titled Blair Witch -- which we'd forgotten about until we Wikipedia'd the franchise this morning to write this intro.
Surely the statute of limitations on a Blair Witch tie-in video game is up by now? It hasn't been relevant in twenty years. What's next? I Know What You Did Last Summer: The Game? Urban Legend: The Game? Jeepers Creepers: The Game? We love silly old horror movies as much as the next person, but this feels a little late in the day. Still, regardless of how ill-timed the game might be, what really matters is whether it's any good.
So is the Blair Witch game any good? Not really, no.
Blair Witch is one of those games that would be twice as effective if it were half as long, which sounds like a weird criticism for a game that's over in six hours -- and shorter if you know what you're doing -- but that's where we're at. This is a game that does a wonderful job of recreating what it's like being lost in the woods, but is seemingly oblivious to the fact that being lost in the woods absolutely sucks.
Have you ever been lost in the woods? Like really lost in the woods? Wandering around looking at trees and wondering, "Hmmm. Have I seen this tree before?" It's not fun. Not knowing where you're going isn't fun. Brushing up against poison ivy and getting a rash isn't fun. Being scared that you'll end up eaten by wolves isn't fun. Sitting down on a log, breaking down, and crying until your Mum finds you isn't fun. We didn't have mobile phones back then, okay? It was scary.
Anyway, Blair Witch does a commendable job of recreating how it feels to be lost in the woods, quickly leaving you confused and directionless. It's not particularly scary at all, but it's certainly uncomfortable, and it's a solid foundation for what could have been one of 2019's most effective horror games. Unfortunately, the palpable sense of dread established at the beginning of the game dissipates over time as frustrating mechanics and poor design decisions start to pile up, ultimately derailing the whole affair.
You play as Ellis: an ex-cop who ventures into the woods with his trusty dog sidekick, Bullet, to join the search party for a missing young boy. Ellis has problems. The early -- slightly clunky -- expository dialogue hints that he's got some mental health issues, but that's not elaborated upon until later in the game, so for the first few hours he's an arse to everyone and you just have to deal with it.
It's also not clear why Ellis has even joined the search for the missing kid in the first place, unless we're supposed to buy that he's just a Good Samaritan which doesn't really jive with how much of a massive jerk he is. Thankfully, Bullet is an incredibly likeable pooch, and solving simple puzzles with him, petting him, and giving him treats because he's such a good boy never gets old. If the dog had been the lead character of the game we'd probably be looking at a solid 7 here, but alas, it wasn't to be. Maybe next time, Bullet.
As you trudge from one samey location to the next, struggling to tell one apart from the other, you'll be given vague instructions via a walkie-talkie from policemen also searching for the boy, as well as finding clues which you can let Bullet sniff to get a scent and lead you to the next area. Soon enough you'll find a video camera that can inexplicably alter reality. Why? We don't really know, but this results in a slightly confusing mechanic in which you can pause the videos you find at certain points to change the world around you; for example, pausing a video of a tree before it falls will remove that fallen tree from blocking your path.
The time manipulation puzzles seem to exist purely to give you something to do rather than because they make any kind of sense. Later, combat is introduced but barely explained, and involves shining a torch on ghosts until they disappear. It's rubbish. There's some dreadful stealth sections. There's a looping corridor bit towards the end that's a bit like PT, but it quickly outstays its welcome, and you'll likely be annoyed with it long before it's finally, mercifully over.
The narrative is undoubtedly back-loaded, and we're not sure that the answers that Blair Witch provides will leave you feeling like your time uncovering them was well spent. There's a couple of different endings on offer -- a bad one and a slightly less bad one. Since the better ending requires you to perform a bunch of completely arbitrary, common-sense defying tasks, it's unlikely you'll see the good ending on your first play-through, but we wouldn't recommend a second. Or even a first, really.
There's also the bugs to contend with, and we're not talking about the creepy-crawlies one might typically expect to encounter when wandering around the woods. Sometimes Bullet stops listening to you and just doesn't respond to your commands, which we totally get because Ellis is a tool and Bullet should be the one giving the orders around here, but it's still not very helpful. We got stuck in the scenery once and had to reload. Also, one time, Bullet just started running around in the air, like four feet above the ground. Perhaps he's some kind of super-dog. Now that's an idea for a game.
Blair Witch's strongest aspect -- its eerie woodland setting -- is perfect for a focused, streamlined, horror experience. Unfortunately, that's not what this game is, and the superfluous, gimmicky gameplay mechanics that are thrown at you with reckless abandon only serve to make the game less effective as a whole. A disappointing story, frustrating level design, and precious few genuine scares leaves us hoping that this is one franchise that gets lost in the woods.