Was “Blair Witch” good, or did it just have a dog?

by Jules Banks / Features Editor

Blair Witch, released in August of 2019, calls back to its source material by having players use a camcorder throughout the game. Photo courtesy of theverge.com.

Burn your romcoms and throw away your action films: the horror genre is the pinnacle of entertainment, no doubt about it. With the spooky season in full swing, I decided to branch outside of my normal sphere of media—books, tv shows and movies—to try to scare myself a little differently. Over the past two weeks, my boyfriend and I banded together to play “Blair Witch,” a horror video game developed by the Bloober Team that’s loosely based off the genre-defining film of the same name. 

The game, which takes about six to eight hours to complete, takes place in a semi-open world environment (meaning that players can explore quite a bit of the woods, straying from the intended path) within the haunted forest of the Black Hills. But the setting and format isn’t what makes “Blair Witch” unique. Despite being based off a specific and somewhat iconic piece of film, the idea behind the game is relatively basic. However, in the beginning, the game introduces you to your most valuable asset, and a unique one at that. His name is Bullet, and he’s a german shepherd that guides you, retrieves items for you and—most importantly—you can pet him whenever you want. It’s the small details like these that enhance “Blair Witch,” and work to make the gameplay feel unique and personalized to the user.

This first-person game introduces players to Ellis Lynch, a policeman and war veteran who joins a search party for a young boy who has gone missing in Black Hills forest. Audiences play as Ellis as the night grows dark, and as all other officers abandon the search to escape the infamous woods before nightfall, Ellis stays with Bullet in an attempt to track down the missing child. Things only continue to get eerier as the player travels deeper into the woods, getting harassed by not one, but three different opponents: a group of demonic shadows, a murderer and kidnapper named Carver and the driving force behind it all: the Blair Witch.

One of my main critiques of this game would be the overwhelmingly wide array of enemies that Ellis encounters throughout the story. Although the intent behind adding a multitude of bad guys seems to be utilized by game developers in order to keep “Blair Witch” engaging, this sometimes muddled the plot line. 

The history behind the shadow demons is not thoroughly explained throughout the game, but the means to defeat them is right in the player’s hands: the flashlight. Three hits from the flashlight beam—give or take—is all it takes to keep them away. 

Carver is a bit more fleshed out. His story can be slowly pieced together between his dialogue with Ellis later on in the game and with collectable papers strewn about throughout the game. However, missing these papers can cause confusion while playing. While it isn’t entirely necessary, reading these for backstory makes the game much more interesting.

The Blair Witch is never actually seen, but she holds a position of manipulator over the other two evils. Her characterization felt a bit underwhelming, as her main role is to whisper menacingly in Ellis’ ear and sometimes lead the player astray in the woods, but her dark magic mixed with Ellis’ psychological state of PTSD creates some intriguing and horrific wartime scenarios. The usage of flashbacks as actual scenes that players must get through—instead of just existing as a handful of clunky cutscenes—was a great move on the game developers’ part. In my opinion, the most frightening scenes were the ones about Ellis’ personal war traumas, rather than the scenes featuring Carver or the shadow demons. 

Bullet, the dog, makes this game worth the hours of playing. Players have options as to how they treat Bullet throughout the game, which affects the way he interacts with Ellis later on. (Although I must say, if you use ‘reprimand’ even once on Bullet, you’re a fool. He’s a good boy, and throughout the entire game, I legitimately couldn’t find one reason that you would reprimand him. Only monsters would choose this option.) He is Ellis’ only companion throughout the game, and it is legitimately comforting during the scarier scenes to look over and see Bullet by his side. 

Despite this, “Blair Witch” didn’t exactly exceed my expectations. The pacing dragged in several areas, including the final scene, which took place in one cabin for upwards of 45 minutes. That may not seem long in an 8-hour game, but cycling through the same two stories of an old cabin and facing the same demons from earlier was tiring. Several times, the game glitched in ways that made my boyfriend and I have to redo large, tedious scenes (it isn’t so scary if you have to redo it over and over). And, not to spoil anything, but once we realized we got “the bad ending,” we didn’t feel compelled to play this game again and try for the good one. 

I won’t be playing “Blair Witch” again, but that doesn’t mean I despised it. This game was a great way to begin the Halloween season, and it occasionally caused me to hide my face in fear a few times throughout the storyline. Sadly, the experience was just a bit too underwhelming for me to try to succeed again. Next time, I’ll be choosing something a bit scarier to play.

6 out of 10 torches 

The main character of “Blair Witch,” veteran Ellis Lynch, walks with his canine companion Bullet at his side. Photo courtesy of polygon.com.

Categories: Arts & Entertainment

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