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.

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