Some mysteries are better left unsolved. Such is the case with The Blair Witch Project, a supernatural horror film that was released in theatres 20 years ago in the year 1999. The film used a “found-footage technique”, which is now a genre, but many folks who watched the film in theatres questioned whether or not the scenes that played out were real. At the time, the Internet was pretty much in its infancy, so, it’s no surprise that some believed The Blair Witch Project to be a real documentary, but I digress.
The film became a hit that led to it being a media sensation, spawning two sequels, novels, comic books, and a trilogy of games developed by the now-defunct Gathering of Developers. Over the past few years, The Blair Witch franchise has been missing in action, that is, until during E3 2019 many of us were shocked to discover that the Bloober Team, you know, the team responsible for psychological horror game gems, Observer and the Layers of Fear series, revealed that they would be making a Blair Witch game simply titled, Blair Witch, in partnership with Lionsgate Games. Since the reveal trailer, not much else has been revealed. However, after going hands-on with the game during a preview event, I can easily tell that Blair Witch is going to give me nightmares, and oddly enough, I can’t wait for that to happen.
Set in 1996, which was considered “a year of mysteries”, a young boy who was sporting a Baltimore Ravens cap has gone missing in the Black Hills Forest right outside of Burkittsville, Maryland. As Ellis, a former police officer who has had his fair share of problems in the past, you decide to help out with the investigation. Thankfully, you’re not alone, accompanying Ellis is his trusty dog, Bullet, who comes along for the search. What starts as a typical, nothing-special investigation ends up turning into one heck of a terrible, endless nightmare as Ellis’ fears must be confronted, along with the menacing Blair Witch, a mysterious force that creeps in the woods. To make it out alive, and rescue the missing child, you must experience first-hand the toll that fear can take on the mind and embark on a psychological trek that’s bound to mess with your head in more ways than one.
Now, sure, the premise isn’t anything that hasn’t been done before, but what’s particularly neat about Blair Witch is that it will tell an original story set in the Blair Witch universe, more specifically, a story that occurred before the events of the Blair Witch Project. According to Barbara Kciuk, narrative designer at Bloober Team, the team wanted to make sure their Blair Witch game stayed true to the films it’s based on, but not be a scene-by-scene, basic re-telling of one of the films. Given how licensed games tend to lack in telling an original story, I was pleased to find out that Bloober Team has been able to do so, and managed to even get Lionsgate’s “blessing”.
What surprised me and kept me on the edge of my seat was how Blair Witch never failed to capture my attention with its immense tension and ever-changing environments found within. In a first-person perspective, players go through cursed woods that change depending on your reactions to dangerous and stressful moments.
Every step I took, and every area I explored, filled me with more fear and anxiety as I had no clue what nightmarish happenings were going to come my way. Throughout my time playing, I felt like I couldn’t catch my breath, it was as though my trek through the cursed woods was sucking my energy dry — weird, I know, but it’s because I was completely terrified, literally shaking in fear.
Just the journey from going from point A to point B is a daunting task in itself because of the overwhelmingly, attention-grabbing environment, but it’ll also be even more difficult due to the many mysteries that need to be solved. One unique mystery-solving mechanic is the camcorder, which allows you to get a good look at previous events. By using the found-footage tapes you find scattered across the woods, you can watch, rewind and fast-forward the footage, to solve hidden mysteries that wouldn’t be possible to solve without it.
Now, of course, we can’t forget Bullet, and while Bullet sure is cute, the canine companion also is a man’s best friend in Blair Witch. While not completely controlled by the player, the player can choose from an array of commands for Bullet to follow, one of which is “Seek” a command that has Bullet go on the search for an important object. Having Bullet in the game isn’t just for “Can You Pet the Dog?” (You can) purposes as Bullet plays a major role in Blair Witch’s gameplay and the story.
All in all, Blair Witch could very well be considered as one of the best-licensed games to come out in quite some time. With its psychological mind trip to go through, attention-grabbing and terrifying environments that had me shaking in fear, and interesting puzzle-solving mechanics that managed to mess with my mind, Blair Witch will be one scary, yet mesmerizing journey that I can’t help but want to finish, no matter what it takes to do so.
Blair Witch is coming to Xbox One and PC on August 30, 2019.
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