Blair Witch Review: Getting Lost in the Woods Would be More Fun
One of the pleasant surprises of E3 2019 was the on-stage reveal of Blair Witch. The first-person horror adventure was announced with a quick turnaround from Bloober Team, the studio behind favorites like Observer and Layers of Fear.
Blair Witch should be a series that translates well to video games, but somehow that's never been the case. Disappointingly, that trend continues into 2019. The game which emerged from nowhere this summer should have stayed there.
With only a few bright spots, Blair Witch goes from bad to broken, consistently failing to deliver scares worthy of its name.
The literal signs of its brutally lackluster nature come early.
Within the first minutes, extremely poor signposting leaves you feeling abandoned in the woods. Initially, this seems logical. Players are thrust into the same shoes worn by the movies' protagonists, equally turned around and eventually totally lost in the woods of Burkittsville, Maryland.
But that fleeting similarity quickly disappears when misdirection becomes an agonizingly boring north star. With every interaction, the game wants you to get lost, dragging this three-hour story to four or five hours. In a shorter, better-paced window, it works in a movie. In a game twice as long, it will bore you to tears.
My early displeasure quickly grew to greater disappointment as I played. Monster encounters both ignore the series' established mythos and present repetitious Whack-a-Mole encounters. It's strange that this is the game where Bloober Team seeks to finally include direct monster encounters, whereas all of their other horror games act as nearly-on-rails haunted house attractions.
Blair Witch doesn't need a bunch of ancillary scares. The title antagonist, in all her unseen glory, has always served the series well. That's a great deal of the appeal. To give players these tree-hugging humanoid creatures to chase with flashlights does a tremendous disservice to the world of Blair Witch.
The story further complicates things, because it feels like Silent Hill fan fiction in the worst of ways. We didn't need backstory to the characters in The Blair Witch Project in 1999, and we don't need it today. The movie taught us about the characters in real-time, and as they got lost, tired, hungry, scared, we saw who they really were.
Blair Witch the video game retreads the same tired plot of a mentally unwell protagonist with a shady past, and it goes exactly where it looks like it's going 10 minutes in. For a while, I thought the plot was so obviously hinting in one direction that it must've been a misdirection, but it ends up being truly predictable and painfully pedestrian.
Misreading the Script
At every turn, Blair Witch fails to understand what makes the original movie so special, even in its overused collectibles.
The haunting climax of the 1999 film made famous the image of one character standing in the corner, just as lore had said the witch was known to do to her victims. It was unnerving and unexplained, and those two seconds became iconic.
Unfortunately, the game laughably takes this standalone scare and turns it into a recurring collectible where players are tasked with finding literally dozens of photos of dozens of people standing in corners of dingy basements. To say it's fascinatingly misguided would be an understatement.
Blair Witch the game also puts your relationship with your dog, Bullet, front and center. However, it delivers a canine so robotic that forming a bond is impossible. Bullet works as a game mechanic and nothing more, like Batman briefly activating his Detective Mode in Arkham Asylum.
A wheel of interactive options exists, which allows you to do things like call Bullet to your side, pet him, or send him looking for collectibles, but things are again undone by their pedantry, such as one of the collectibles being, quite amazingly, actual trash.
There's an option to reprimand the dog, too, and it again makes no sense. Despite his robotic behavior, there's no point in the game where anyone with a fraction of a human heart would want to reprimand this dog. Bullet does everything you ask of him and is often hurt or traumatized in the process. Treating the dog poorly can change the ending of the story, but there's not one fraction of a second in the game where berating your pet makes sense whatsoever, even as he spins in place like an autonomous vacuum.
So the game isn't scary, it betrays or exploits established lore, and it treads tired video game ground, but at least it's over quickly, right? Wrong. The game is so buggy you'll likely have to restart chapters several times. I actually hit a game-breaking bug in the final chapter which blocked me from finishing the story at all.
Staying in the Shadows
Patches have already been implemented and more are promised to arrive soon, but this game is in stores. Today. In this state. It does a number on the goodwill Bloober Team established with its Layers of Fear series, which has become a modest hit among genre fanatics. The game is ugly with little more than bad puzzles and worse dialogue.
Most of the game is made up of walking from one slog of a puzzle to the next. The games some call "walking simulators" are often among my favorites because they deliver engrossing stories in interesting settings, but this isn't that. Not nearly. Blair Witch surrounds you with Xbox 360-quality trees and a half-dozen types of collectibles and tells you it's scary, but it never actually is. Not for a second.
Blair Witch deserves much more than this, and Bloober Team is much better than this. Their adaptation feels like a rushed and resource-deprived project that should've been scrapped or altogether reimagined many months ago.
- Offers a morbidly fascinating look into how not to adapt an established IP
- The story feels unrelated to the Blair Witch mythology
- Bugs are everywhere and potentially game-breaking
- Collectible-chasing makes up most of the game
- Visuals are reminiscent of mid-360 era
- The dog is robotic and mechanics surrounding him make no sense
- Its few attempts to scare players result in flat Whack-a-Mole sequences
Blair Witch may have been my most anticipated game post-E3, but don't confuse that with me saying it was doomed to meet my expectations. They were realistic and I wasn't asking for much. Sadly, this game does virtually nothing right and couldn't clear even the lowest bar for fans of the franchise.
Its story frustratingly abandons established lore, the gameplay oscillates between sluggish puzzles and flat scares, and if all of that wasn't bad enough, the bugs may keep you from even seeing the credits and finding some closure with this deeply flawed project.
You'd probably have a better time actually getting lost in the woods.
[Note: A copy of Blair Witch was provided by Bloober Team for the purpose of this review.]