Title: Blair Witch: Oculus Quest Edition
Developer: Bloober Team
Release Date: October 29, 2020
Reviewed On: Oculus Quest 2
Publisher: Bloober Team
Genre: Horror Adventure
Developer Bloober Team has been full of surprises these last few years. As they grow into a well-known studio, we see the developer taking a chance on the narrative-driven horror genre, which they seem to be making a substantial impact. Now, they are expecting their development skills to the world of VR with the release of Blair Witch: Oculus Quest Edition. While I feel like this version of the game doesn’t replace the original, it does show this team’s skills in creating an immersive atmosphere and loyal adapting a console experience in virtual reality.
Blair Witch: Oculus Quest Edition borrows the same premise from Blair Witch but adapts gameplay systems to VR. The opening segment is just a gimmick playground as you interact with the environment and spend some quality time with your dog Bullet, who continues to be the star of the show.
The story revolves around an ex-cop named Ellis, who has definitely been through some traumatic moments. Even though he’s not with the police force, he finds himself investigating a missing boy’s disappearance in the woods. Throughout the narrative, you experience Ellis’ life elements that haunt him as he mentally spirals out of control.
While Ellis is trying to deal with his past, there’s also the fact that he has just found himself in the creepiest woods ever. The supernatural elements are primarily at play here, and it’s tough to connect what is actually happening and what is fabricated. It amounts to a story that highlights several themes of pain, loss, and PTSD, but instead of trying to stop it, we’re mostly taken on a path of the outcome of it all.
Blair Witch: Oculus Quest Edition streamlines many of the gameplay elements that returning players will remember. The puzzles have mostly been removed and what’s left is more of a pure exploration experience that uses the environment to do most of the scaring. However, without these puzzle elements and specific animations, you do feel a bit removed from the actual narrative, and it feels like you are just getting through each area in record time. Truth be told, if you’ve played this game before, the VR version will feel like you’re merely playing on Easy Mode.
Some of the more refined elements of the game have you interacting with objects. Strapped to your virtual body are your phone, radio, whistle, flashlight, and video camera. Each item serves its purpose and can be accessed at any point in the adventure. The flashlight happens to be the most important and adds the most prominent immersion layer as you hold it in your hand and make your way through the woods.
Sound is essential in any horror adventure, and Blair Witch: Oculus Quest Edition nails it. Playing with a decent pair of headphones will genuinely make you feel as if you are being followed or cause you to quickly look behind you. The woods are the perfect backdrop for this as well since you can’t really see what lies beyond the tree line. The shadow work plays some tricks on you in that regard, which makes walking from point A to point B scarier in your head that what is really going on.
This works to the benefit of this VR version because there isn’t much else here. You’re pretty much walking, picking up stuff, and moving on. One chapter felt like I walked down a path and then entered the next chapter without anything really happening. The removal of the puzzles may have been the cause of this, but there are other elements at play here too. The transitions are pretty much just fade-to-black for starters, and then you’re in a new area. It can be disorienting since it can happen randomly.
I felt that the developer did a decent job of translating this experience to VR as the graphically lower in-game models didn’t really affect the immersion too much. A few added moments will make you jump, but the scares could have been increased a bit just for the hell of it. I mean, a lot of the scares seem to be more psychological than in your face, but when the game wants to be scary, it definitely proves it can make you scream.
Other interactions include moments of spending time with Bullet. These have taken on a new element; you are now able to feed him a treat, play fetch, and pet him as you wish. If you do become lost in the maze-like areas, Bullet is typically the saving grace to get you back on track. However, in this version of the game, most of the progression puzzles only rely on using the video camera to make objects appear.
Blair Witch: Oculus Quest Edition breaths new life into this nightmare by bringing it to virtual reality. It’s an experience that ends up working through this medium, but I’d say the console version will provide a better sense of the connection to the overall narrative. As much as this game wants to be Blair Witch, losing puzzle elements and limiting chapter-length gives little to do outside of blindly walking around in the dark forest. Luckily, the atmosphere picks up the slack to add scares and immersions.
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