Judge me all you want, but The Blair Witch Project is still one of my top three scariest movies of all time even twenty years after its release and the common knowledge that it was a found footage film staged as a real murder-mystery. The film is absolutely terrifying if you put yourself in the shoes of the victims; lost, hungry, frightened and hunted by an unseen villain that screws with you in the middle of the night. The Blair Witch Project was monumental for the horror film genre and broke box office records when examined for revenue over cost. The problem with this, though, is the two sequels – Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2 and Blair Witch – have failed to match its success in critical review, story and ticket sales.
The 30 August 2019 release of video game Blair Witch is actually the fourth playable game in the slow-burning franchise. A trilogy of computer games were released in 2000, shortly after the first film debuted in theaters. They were called Rustin Parr, The Legend of Coffin Rock and The Elly Kedward Tale. It’s been nearly twenty years since those games released exclusively on the PC, and developer/publisher Bloober Team decided to capitalize on a big name in horror with Blair Witch: The Video Game – a first person survival horror game that takes you directly into the Black Hills Forest. Speaking of survival horror games, Blair Witch pales in comparison to other titles in its category such as Outlast, Until Dawn and The Evil Within. This simply boils down to game-play and graphics, but I’ll get to that a little later.
Blair Witch takes place two years after The Blair Witch Project, even though the events of the big movie are hardly mentioned. Nine-year-old Peter Shannon has gone missing, and authorities want to search Black Hills Forest as soon as possible. Ellis, a former police officer and war veteran suffering from PTSD, is late to the search party and embarks on his own man-hunt with his trusty partner Bullet, a therapy dog who didn’t quite make it on the police force. Armed with nothing but a cell phone, a walkie-talkie, a flashlight, a backpack and a camcorder, Ellis and Bullet start searching the land of legend for Peter Shannon. When Bullet catches a whiff of the boy’s scent, they make a run in that direction, resulting in Ellis stumbling down a steep hill and knocking himself unconscious. When he wakes up, the forest has changed and Ellis is about to find himself in a never-ending nightmare not for the faint of heart.
CAUTION: SPOILERS WILL FOLLOW AFTER THIS POINT.
Being such a big fan of the first movie, I downloaded Blair Witch as soon as it became available in the XBOX store on 30 August 2019. I was happy to see that Black Hills Forest was the established area that the game would take place in, despite wanting some sort of mission on Coffin Rock. Keeping everything canon, the human-shaped stick figures are featured throughout the game (only as a way to frighten your dog and make you hear voices), as are the rock piles and a very long ending sequence inside the infamous Rustin Parr house. The weird tree monsters showcased in Blair Witch (2016) are the common enemy in the video game, although they can be destroyed by merely shining a flashlight on them, and Bloober Team and Lionsgate Games created their own addition with a swirling tornado that sneaks up on you from under piles of leaves. With or without minions, The Blair Witch isn’t the main antagonist in this game – it’s a serial killer named Carver.
Carver is revealed to have kidnapped Peter Shannon and is intending to make him his next victim. Carver is a psychotic recluse, with twigs and dirt covering his body. He’s murdered dozens of people in Black Hills Forest, presumably all at the command of The Blair Witch herself. Carver is the king of playing cat and mouse game, masked with psychological torture, and Ellis falls into all of his traps with great ease, even falling under the impression that Carver is somehow trying to help him out of the woods. He was creepy, that’s for sure, but I was hoping for more interaction with the fabled witch. You hear her voice quite often, trying to convince you to kill yourself or fall in love with her (what?), and it’s clear that she’s pulling all the strings and using her magic to cause you hallucinations in an ever-changing forest, but you still never get a glimpse at her. Perhaps we never will.
Blair Witch isn’t as cut and dry as you’d think. A few supporting characters including Ellis’ ex-wife Jess and an overbearing Sheriff Lanning make frequent appearances, as do soldiers from Ellis’ army days and previous victims that fell under the hands of Carver. So, in that respect, it’s not completely a game that sees you only wandering around the forest with your dog. You discover pieces of paper that develop the characters, the setting and the timeline and often you’re forced to solve puzzles in a very Resident Evil sort of way. Plus, the first-person perspective game introduces a cool function with your camcorder. When you find strategically placed video tapes around the forest, you can put them in your camcorder and pause them at the right moment; resulting in a change to your surroundings. Is a tree blocking the path? Find a tape with a clear path and boom, you’re free to continue on.
So far it sounds like I enjoyed the game, right? Wrong! I’m sorry to the creators and to the franchise itself, but Blair Witch was absolutely one of the worst games I’ve ever played. It became nothing but a bothersome chore I needed to complete after dropping $30 on the game, and I have zero interest in going back to nab the trophies I missed during my first and only run. I told my brother-in-law not to bother buying Blair Witch, and I’m going to tell you guys to skip it, too. You can complete Blair Witch in a little under four hours, which I did only by use of a walk-through video on YouTube. This game is far from playable without it due to the graphics. During the day, hallucinations, and cut-scenes, the game looks awesome, but at night everything is shrouded in darkness and the only way to see your surroundings it to shine your flashlight on it. It’s way too easy to get lost, way too easy to walk in circles and way too easy to miss something important while your eyes are bleeding from trying to adjust to the pitch-black darkness every 30 seconds.
My other huge complaint is the auto-save feature. Blair Witch will only save your game when you get to specific plot points, which can sometimes range from a half hour or forty minutes if you’re struggling to find your way because of the shit night graphics. What results is a video game that forces you to stay put for a long period of time, which means you can’t play it at your leisure and when you have time. And since the graphics at night are so terrible, there’s no way you can play it during the day, either. Not only that but the game is filled with filler. There’s a sequence where you’re walking through a tunnel for no less than ten minutes and the ending, which is the best part, sees you stomping around the Rustin Parr house for over a half hour. How? It’s a two story house… All of the useless filler could have been cut in place of references to the original movie, so at least fans could get a bigger taste of what they came looking for.
I wanted to love this game. I really did. But I’d rather stand in the corner and get butchered than ever play it again…