Witches Be Tripping!
Go ahead. Cringe at my stupid joke above, because that’s the only relief from the overwhelming despair of Blair Witch that you’ll get throughout its roughly 6 hour run time, and that’s a good thing.
Bloober Team’s Blair Witch is one hell of a horror game, and in my opinion, another contender for Game of the Year. Yes, it really is that good, but it may be too good.
The year is 1996, and you play as Ellis, a former police officer who is joining the search for a missing child. You are joined by your trusty companion, Bullet, and yes, you can pet him. He is also a good boy. Arriving late, you must embark on your search alone, with only a hand full of items (A cell phone circa 1996, flashlight, walkie talkie, dog treats, and a camera) and Bullet at your side. Get used to being alone, by the way, because other than Bullet and a few enemies, you will encounter no one else on your journey, which adds to the game’s incredibly oppressive atmosphere. Once the story gets rolling, Blair Witch never lets the tension slide. It’s 6 hours of pure tension, even when nothing is happening. This is due to the fact that you never know when exactly the game is going to throw a curve ball at you. You never feel “safe”, or at least I never did. Games like Outlast are similar in this, yet I was eventually able to find places where the game would let me breath. Blair Witch offers no such relief. Throughout my entire play through, I never felt I had a grip on anything, from the story to the controls. This is why I said that the game may be “too good”. This is not an experience for everyone. It’s not really “fun”, but that may be the point. Now, don’t get me wrong, I had a great time playing it, even had fun, but this game takes psychological horror to place rarely seen in games. You will get frustrated, angry, and even feel like you’re going crazy yourself. The confusion never stops, and neither does the anxiety. It really does feel like the woods are trying to drive you mad. Every time you think you know what’s going on, it switches everything up. You may not always be in danger, but you never feel safe. This is helped by the game’s brevity, a roughly 6 hour campaign that can be completed in one sitting, but if it were any longer, the game might seem unbearable. The funny thing is, I didn’t die a lot. It wasn’t hard, it just made me feel “bad”. Very few games are able to fill you with this much fear and dread without punishing you with the difficulty, but Blair Witch manages to do just that.
Control wise, Blair Witch is fairly simply. It plays like any other first-person game. The game play is also fairly simple outside of two interesting mechanics. At the beginning of the game, you are given a few items. First is a flash light. The flash light is used, of course, to see in the dark, but it also acts as a weapon. When the first enemy is introduced, you use your flash light to stun, and then seemingly kill them. I won’t go any further into this because of spoilers (this will probably come up a lot). You’re also given a phone and a walkie talkie. These are used to communicate with the search party, as well as “others” (again, spoilers). One thing I will say about these items is that they aren’t just relegated to certain events, triggers, or cut scenes. It is possible to call and radio different people through out the game, if you so wish. The cell phone itself is also full of many different options, settings, and even games, which includes a full version of the classic Snake Game! Out of all these items, however, the most interesting one you’re given is the camera. Yes, the camera is the most interesting part of the game, and is incredibly different from how cameras have been used in other games. This is due to the player being able to find red tapes that can alter reality. It is unknown even to me now if they were actually altering anything or if it was all in my head, but the effect works. The camera isn’t just relegated to one gimmick, however, as it it used in several different ways as the story progresses, but I won’t get into that due to spoilers. What I can say is that this game is not an Outlast clone. It could not be farther from Outlast, which brings me to probably the biggest pro of the game.
This game is not Outlast. I was one of many that thought the game looked very similar to Outlast, both in tone and mechanically. I never thought that this was a bad thing, I mean, I adore the Outlast series, but it did seem like this game was trying to follow it, which may have been disappointing to some since Bloober Team is known, for better and for worse, for following their own formula. Those expecting Outlast, like me, will not find it here, but what you will find is something welcome and incredibly unexpected. What you’ll find is Silent Hill. You read that right. Blair Witch is the closest game I’ve played to a Silent Hill game, specifically Silent Hill 2, than anything made since Silent Hill 3, excluding P.T. (Sorry, The Room is good, but not exactly Silent Hill). This is saying something since 5 Silent Hill games (6 if you count P.T.) have been released since then. The whole time I played this game I couldn’t stop thinking, “Damn, Bloober really wants to make a Silent Hill game”. It’s Silent Hill to its core, even down to how the game unfolds in its ending. That, however, is where the accolades stop.
I only have two major issues with the game. They, however, are pretty big one. I’ll start with the least of the two cons, which is the ending. When I got to the end of Blair Witch, I was confused and mad, but not because that was the intention. I was confused because I didn’t know how I got the ending. Blair Witch, like most of Bloober Team’s catalog, has multiple endings based on the choices you made throughout the game. The game tells you as much upfront. The problem is that I don’t know what the choices were that got me to the bad ending. The game says that I “chose” the ending, but I don’t know what choice I made. This is a problem. Choice in games is great, but it’s not great if you don’t know what those choices are. Choices don’t have to be telegraphed with quick time events, points, etc., but they should be noticeable. Outside of one thing, I did not notice any other time in the game where there was a choice. To me, it felt like I was going down the linear path that the game set out for me. Since I didn’t know what the choices were that I was making, the ending I got didn’t feel earned, whether deserved or not. It just felt out of place. This, however, is not enough to lower the game’s placement in my GOTY standings, or lower its score. It’s performance, on the other hand, is.
When I first booted up Blair Witch on my Xbox One X, I noticed right away that there were some issues. First off, the cutscenes are compressed to all hell. Not the worst thing in the world, but very noticeable in both 4K and 1080p. That’s forgivable, though, for there aren’t many cutscenes, but every time one pops up, it’s takes you out immediately. This wouldn’t be so bad if they didn’t try to make the cutscenes look like they were in game. It’s hard not to notice when all of the sudden the frame rate and compression change, even though your POV hasn’t. This is nothing compared to frame the frame rate over all. The game is supposed to run at 30, but even on the Xbox One X at 1080p, it was struggling to get above 25. Even worse, there was a lot of screen tearing. The good news is that once I was a good chunk into the game, these problems either became less frequent, or I started to notice them less. That is, until the game crashed 3 times. Yes, even though I was able to beat Blair Witch in one sitting (streamed it live, too) I almost wasn’t able. In the middle of the game, I got 3 hard crashes to the dashboard in the same spot. I did everything I could to fix the problem, but nothing seemed to work other than turning off and unplugging the Xbox for awhile. Even then, I had another freeze later in the game that eventually fixed itself. Hopefully, these problems will be fixed in a patch if they haven’t already, but if the game wasn’t as good as it is or if it wasn’t my thing, I don’t know if I would’ve finished it after having these issues. Issues like these can kill any and all interest in a game. Good thing they didn’t kill mine, because then I would’ve missed out on one of the best games this year.
Overall, Blair Witch is worth picking up. It’s well worth both its 30 USD retail price and the Game Pass subscription. Outside of a few major issues, Blair Witch is really that good, and is Bloober Team’s finest work.
4.5 out of 5