Blair Witch review - a fright in the woods

By Olly Smith. Posted

It’s 1996. A boy has disappeared in the woods near Burkittsville, Maryland. You’re Ellis, a former police officer with a tortured past who’s joined the search for the child with your reliable canine companion, Bullet.

Blair Witch puts you at the heart of the forest with little more than a radio, a torch, and a video camera. It’s a horror that appeals to the senses, with subtle noises and visual cues driving the main scares. Part of the mystery comes from trying to solve what exactly is happening in this twisted place. Is a person behind this kidnapping, or is it the work of supernatural forces?

As you proceed further into the forest, you find creepy photos of missing children and video cassettes that allow you to psychokinetically manipulate the world around you. Bullet comes in handy, as he can collect hidden items and sniff trails to lead you on the right path, but dodgy pathfinding and confusing level design can frequently have you getting lost. While it may seem apt for a Blair Witch game, there comes a point where it’s more frustrating than scary.

I think one of my favourite parts of wandering these woods was how much uncertainty there was with every step I took. Like the film, the geography seemed to ‘warp’ depending on my movement.

Walking in a straight line eventually returned me to a spot I’d visited earlier, creating the illusion of a circular journey while reinforcing a distorted perception of the world. It made me question myself. Did I really circle around this area, or was the game intentionally messing with me?

While largely disconnected from the original film, a lot of its imagery is used in the game.

Despite the trickery, Blair Witch isn’t as terrifying as it promises. Getting lost, questioning your own perception, and hearing tree branches break in the darkness all feel in line with the film’s legacy, but it’s also reliant on hallucinations to create jump scares and moments of anxiety.

Flashbacks to Ellis’ time as a police officer and the emotional toll it had on his mind take precedence over the scary things happening in the woods. Once you deduce the events that aren’t real compared to the ones that are, it doesn’t work for the horror it tries to be.

If there’s a true horror in Blair Witch, it’s the bugs. Poor frame rates and occasional crashes are one thing, but the game’s also host to a myriad glitches. If Bullet isn’t clipping through trees, he’s running around in circles, ignoring my commands.

While they‘re uncommon enough to not be a real nuisance, these moments ended up ruining any sense of tension the sequence had going for it. In the end, Blair Witch’s horror ebbs rather than builds to a terrifying crescendo.

Highlight

The 1990s setting is reinforced by the inclusion of video camcorders and Polaroid photographs, but the best part is being able to pull out your old brick phone and play Snake. A perfect way to recover during a tense moment. Admittedly, it’s an anachronism by a couple of years, with Snake not hitting phones until 1998, but at least this isn’t the kind of magazine to be pedantic enough to… oh.

Verdict: 60%

The Blair Witch film series could be perfectly translated to a modern horror game, but the execution doesn’t respect the legacy the franchise has built over the years.

Genre: Psychological horror
Format: PC (tested) / XBO
Developer: Bloober Team
Publisher: Bloober Team NA
Price: £24.99
Release: Out now

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