Publisher: Bloober Team
Developer: Bloober Team
Release Date: 08/30/2019
Also Available On
The Blair Witch Project was a movie that scared the living crap out of me as a child and is still scary to this day. The mockumentary style film was done very well and was so convincing my own mother thought the movie was real lost footage for the longest time. The iconic effigy of the stickman, the child handprints, standing in the corner, the cabin in the woods with the basement, all of it is in this game. You play as Ellis Lynch who is a sheriff in the town where the Black Hills Forest lies. You are trying to find a lost or kidnapped boy named Peter Shannon. Ellis ends up fighting his own demons and becoming another victim of the Witch and the forest.
The game starts out easy enough and scare-free. You get introduced to the game mechanics and the walking simulator begins. Within the first 20 minutes, the first scares start, and you are already lost in the forest. Through the entire game, you have a canine companion named Bullet who is used to sniff out clues when you find items in the forest to progress further to find Peter. You get a few tools such as an older camcorder, a flashlight, a cell phone, and a walkie-talkie. These are all used in the game for scares and jumps and they’re used really well. You can hail Bullet and call him towards you or have him seek to find the next area to explore, but this stops about halfway through the game. A weird “combat” mechanic is introduced and only used a few times by shining your flashlight on ghosts/demons that run around and circle you. Bullet will growl in their direction and if you don’t flash them to death quickly they will kill you. It’s only used a few times and I felt it was scary the first time then underwhelming thereafter.
Most of the game is comprised of walking around collecting photos, breaking effigies, and finding tapes. The camcorder is well used here as it is both a gameplay tool and used for story purposes. Red tapes allow you to manipulate time by rewinding events so they open passages or leave items around Ellis. It’s not super hard to figure out as each clip is less than 20 seconds and it’s very obvious what the game wants you to pause on. The blue tapes just add story context, but the camera is used later in the game as a way to see hidden objects such as trails and enemies as your flashlight eventually becomes useless. The game isn’t an open world, but the areas are large and you will spend each section solving some sort of puzzle, but exploring the game is downright frightening. Bloober did a phenomenal job scaring you with real terror and fright. They use the unknown for a fear factor and you never know what’s lurking in the woods. You feel isolated, alone, scared, and for the longest time, I didn’t’ want to play the game as I was really scared. One scene in the middle of the game has Ellis trying to clear a path in a sawmill and running around the area in the dark with the only lights that make you feel safe, even for a few seconds, die on you and go out makes the terror that much better.
However, as the story progressed I didn’t understand what was going on at all. There were scenes where Ellis was having flashbacks of war, but it never stated he was in one, at least not that I remembered. He’s obviously struggling with depression and PTSD as he’s constantly fighting with his wife on the phone and has a record of going crazy. I just never understood how the forest worked, or how the Blair Witch was incorporated into all of this. It’s obvious the 90’s film’s influence is present with a campsite that has the tent the crew used in the film with the flannel shirt, the cabin at the end of the game is almost a spitting image and is the scariest part of the game, but this section drags on way too long lasting 45 minutes. I was running down endless hallways with my camera and the story pretty much stopped here. I didn’t learn anything new about Ellis or the Witch or what is going on. It was just random events that we already know and jump scares. Having to creep around parts of the house to avoid enemies was scary, and using the phone’s messages to tell you not to look up or writing that said look away was sending chills up my spine, but this endless rat’s maze is one of Bloobers largest problems in their design. Both Observer and Layers of Fear suffered the endless hallway syndrome with no story progression and random events.
When it was all said and done the game has an amazing atmosphere and should be played during October or a sleepover or something. It’s very entertaining and the puzzles are very light and there are tons of scares here for most people. I would have liked a better story, stronger characters, and more explanation of the Witch, the forest, and the entire legend overall. The game is very short ending in about 4 hours and there are zero reasons to go back outside of scaring new friends. The game looks really good with great lighting effects, but it has an overall stiffness to it that I didn’t like. Bullet’s AI is dumb as dirt as it actually broke my game a few times requiring restarts as he couldn’t find a certain path or would blip out of existence and break the game. The game is also horribly optimized and runs poorly on PC even with high-end hardware. There is also no ultrawide screen support. Overall, the game is a fun and scary afternoon, but don’t expect a good story or anything like that.