The 'Blair Witch' Video Game Is A Terrifying Journey Into One Of The Greatest Horror Movies Of All Time

The Blair Witch Project was more than a movie, it was a phenomenon. It took horror to a new level, blurring the line between reality and fiction. I was only a child when it came out, but I vividly remember the debates in the school yard about whether or not it was real. I had no doubts in my mind that it was, going so far as to avoid my own wooded backyard in Texas, thinking it could have been filmed there.

After a series of questionable sequels, new life has finally been breathed into the horror classic via a simple first person video game from Bloober, simply titled Blair Witch, that takes the found footage format to the next level by putting you in the driver's seat, alone in the Blacks Hills Forest outside the little town of Burkittsville, Maryland, hunted by something unknown. The result is one of the more terrifying horror games I have ever played, and a must-have of all your spooky season festivities.

The Tortured Cop and His Loyal Companion

In this take on the Blair Witch, you play as ex-soldier and troubled cop named Ellis. Accompanied by his loyal dog, Bullet, you enter the infamous woods with a mission to find a missing child. Ellis is desperate to prove his worth. He could best be described as someone with the best intentions but the worst execution, and finding this little boy is going to be his redemption. His fresh start. Unfortunately for Ellis, his plans seem doomed early on as the stress from the search and the evil lurking in the woods bring out the worst of his inner demons, feeding off of his survivor's guilt and PTSD in a series of fever dream-like flashbacks to his own haunted past.

You come for the witch, but you stay for the dog. The game smartly throws an emotional curveball at you in the form of Ellis's service dog and resident Goodest Boy, Bullet. You may not care for the doomed humans in a horror movie, but dammit you are not going to be part of the story where the dog dies! Bullet is more than just a sweet face. He is actually one of the most essential aspects of the gameplay, serving not only as Ellis's only source of sanity, but his barks and growls, and yes, sometimes cries, warn you that evil is lurking nearby. Without getting into spoilers, Bullet is the only good thing in Ellis's life, and their relationship throughout the story is what takes this game to the next level. This is not some mindless horror game, it is an emotional roller coaster.

Elements of the Game

One of the most important components of the game is the video camera. For the first half of the game, the camera is used as a means of changing reality. Initially, the purpose of the camera is not explained very well. Luckily, unlike the poor souls trapped in the woods, you have access to the internet. Having to consult the internet during such a simple game to learn how basic mechanics work is not ideal, and I do wish they would have done a better job explaining the mechanics of the camera. Akin to having to pause a movie to answer your phone, it led us to being temporarily taken out of the ambience of the game. However, once we realized what we were doing wrong it was smooth sailing. Later on in the game, the camera is used as your primary method for viewing the world around you, and I feel like this is when the game really takes the dive from spooky to terrifying.

If you are already a fan of horror games, Blair Witch is similar to 2010's Amnesia. You are constantly battling internal and external demons with no real means of defense. Light is some of your only first. The mind-bending and rule-changing of this game knows no bounds and soon you start to question everything. There is a lot of running and sneaking and trying desperately to cling to Bullet and the flashlight to keep from going insane. How you treat Bullet is one of the "choices" that you have and it can have a large effect on how much Bullet can help you through the increasingly intense mental breakdowns. Although, anyone who doesn't choose to give Bullet all the treats and pets for saving your ass and being the best boy can suffer as far as I am concerned. If there is an alternate ending that you can only reach through treating Bullet poorly, it is safe to say that I will never see it.

A Game for Non-Gamers

The mechanics of the game are incredibly simple. This is not a game exclusively for gamers. I myself am not a regular Xbox player, and found no issue diving in with a foreign controller. Besides running in terror, there is no fast-paced button pushing or complicated combos. Blair Witch is the latest in a video game trend of playable horror movies. It feels more like guiding than gaming. You are here for the story and you are here to be scared, and it delivers. The game itself is short, taking only a few terrifying hours to complete, and I would definitely advise that you play it straight through. One of the biggest components to this game is the feeling of being utterly and completely lost in the woods. There are no level maps, and almost everything looks the same, so trying to dive back into it after a day will only make you more disoriented. A mistake that I unfortunately made.

Blair Witch has multiple endings, but I wouldn't necessarily call it a choose your own adventure story. To be honest, it doesn't really feel like you get to choose your path at all. I don't say that as a negative, if anything it adds to the hopeless desperation that made the original movie so good. It feels like the game is fighting against you. It wants you to fail, and by fail I mean meet the worst, most horrifying, ending possible for poor Ellis and Bullet. Don't fight it. Play the game. Do what you think you are supposed to. There is time for happy endings later.

You can have just as much fun being a spectator to this game as the one with the controller in your hand. If anything, being a spectator will make you feel more like you are watching a Blair Witch movie, because you don't have any control in the chaos. The game is recommended to be played with headphones on to fully surround yourself with all of the creepy sounds and fully embrace the isolation. I set out to play it in a more social setting and it made for the perfect friendly fright night and horror movie marathon alternative. Just make sure you have surround sound for the best group experience.

Yeah, but is it the Blair Witch Project?

If you are a fan of The Blair Witch Project, you will not be disappointed. All of those wonderful hanging stick figures are back to remind you that these woods are alive with secrets that maybe you don't actually want to discover. You will stumble on weird stone formations and plenty of twisted ancient trees that Bullet is none too happy about. You encounter a lot of run-down campsites and relics of the woods' storied history, but most of the time it is hard to determine if they are really there or if it is all in Ellis's head. Out of all of the those elements, the thing I was looking forward to the most was that infamous house, and boy howdy was it perfect. Handprints and all. The developers clearly took their time to make sure that the house was rendered perfectly, and by the time you reach it, Ellis has fallen so far into madness that you are terrified of every corner.

The game does a near-perfect job of not only capturing the look but also the feel of the 1999 film. Taking place mostly at night, you can rarely see beyond the short scope of your flashlight. The dense and wild woods entomb you, making your line of sight even worse. You can't see things, but you can hear them, and if Bullet starts barking your anxiety will go from high to "please god no." One of the most impactful elements of The Blair Witch Project was its ability to create horror through panic. Watching Heather, Josh, and Mike deteriorate from fear is more impactful than seeing any monster. It feels so real, because if you stripped away the weird stick people and the stone piles, you are still faced with the very real, and almost universally held fear of being lost and thrown into survival mode. While the game may have more actual monsters and visible threats, it still captures that same deterioration through isolation. Before long, not even Bullet can fully bring Ellis back to reality.

The found footage sub-genre of horror lends itself perfectly to a first person POV style game. In lieu of a shaky cam, the controller vibrates during the tense moments of the game, which helps give the impression that you yourself are experiencing this first hand, and because you don't have any weapons, your choices usually boil down to sneaking or running. In those moments of running in panicked fear, trying to keep track of Bullet, and not being able to see a damn thing, you are thrown face first into those terrifying night time sequences surrounded by whispers and snaps in the distance and not knowing which way to go.

Too Much of a Good Thing

Unfortunately, some of the same elements that make the game scary can also make the game monotonous. Although the old familiar feeling of walking in circles hearkens back to the source material, it is a roughly six hour game compared to an 80 minute movie, and "oh shit, we are back here again," can turn into, "ugh, ok so we are back here again." Horror starts to fail when the audience starts to feel comfortable, and that happens a little too often in Blair Witch. The game could easily shave an hour of wandering and flashbacks and not sacrifice anything from the story and emotional involvement. Once you have played through it the first time and know exactly what to expect, you can shorten some of these lagging sections, but not everyone is willing to play through a game multiple times. If you are playing alone in a dark room with your headphones on, there are enough creepy noises and trippy encounters to keep your blood pumping. But if you are playing in a group setting in place of the standard horror movie marathon, lets just say there is plenty of opportunity to go to the bathroom or grab a cold one.

The first time you see a "monster" in the woods it is bone-chilling, but after a while the game seems to incorporate too many little jump scares that can take you out of that good old Blair Witch Project feeling. What Bloober added to the mythology of The Blair With Project is what makes this one of the my new favorite horror games, but it could have also benefited from some editing down. The score, the sound effects, and the imagery are all so spot-on that it can be disappointing to lose some of that association with the original film and cheapen the perfectly simple terror with too many funhouse tricks.

The Juice is Worth the Squeeze

Even with some of the aforementioned issues, the game ultimately pays off in a big way. The final act of the game isn't just scary – it's really fucking terrifying. The lead-up to the big finale will leave you breathless. Nails chewed down to nothing, eyes watering, pillow-hugging madness. The feeling of being lost and helpless has encased you and you are one camcorder in the dark away from looking like Heather at the end of The Blair Witch Project – tears flowing, and apologizing to your friends that you insisted on playing this. By the time we entered the climax, declarations of "I don't want to play this anymore" and a whole lot of "Nope. Nope nope nope," filled the room. The final chapter turns Blair Witch into an all-out haunted house game with next to no concept of what is real and what isn't.

Though this sequence also seems to run a bit longer than it should, it certainly never lets you fully relax. If you did everything that you thought you were supposed to and inevitably ended up with the worst of endings, the game caps off with a gruesome little twist that some of those paying close attention might have already picked up on. By then there isn't much choice but to accept that there is a fate worse than death, making it the feel-good story of the year. Congratulations.

Blair Witch almost perfectly accomplishes exactly what it set out to do. Occasionally falling victim to its own ambition, this is a horror game that will stick with you. It is bleak, it is exhausting, it is trippy, and most of all it is scary. Like the 1999 horror classic, you are not likely to forget it anytime soon, and I would not be surprised if we start to see more horror games that take a page out of Bloober's book making The Blair Witch Project, once again, a trendsetting new standard in horror.