The tale of a bad man and a good boy.
Ellis, Blair Witch’s main character, is a jerk. He’s a former cop and a war veteran, a Man With a Past who is dealing with psychological trauma and treats his ex-wife, Jess, and his boss, Sheriff Lanning, both of whom have tried to help him, like garbage. His hold on the real world is, at best, tenuous. This makes him an excellent choice to venture off into the woods by himself to find Peter, a young boy who has disappeared in the Black Hill Forest of Burkittsville, Maryland, which are supposedly haunted by the Blair Witch of 1999’s The Blair Witch Project. Ellis’s determination is understandable. He’s a tortured man who knows how terrible he is and has several demons to exorcise. This is his quest for redemption.
Fortunately for Ellis (and the player), he isn’t alone. Ellis is accompanied by Bullet, a former police dog given to him by Sheriff Lanning. Bullet will find clues, guide you along the right path, bark at you when you’re going the wrong way, and identify the locations of the monsters lurking in the trees so you can defend yourself from them. He’s also Ellis’s emotional support animal, and his presence also keeps Ellis sane. Bullet is the beating heart of Blair Witch. He’s also a very good boy. After about an hour, I no longer cared about what happened to Ellis. He could have died and I would have been okay with it. I just wanted Bullet to live.
"Blair Witch is set in 1996, two years after the original film, and Ellis’s equipment reflects the time period. He has a Nokia cell phone, a flashlight, a walkie-talkie, a backpack to hold anything he may find, and snacks for Bullet. Since Ellis arrives late to the search party, you spend most of the game without any human contact."
Blair Witch is set in 1996, two years after the original film, and Ellis’s equipment reflects the time period. He has a Nokia cell phone, a flashlight, a walkie-talkie, a backpack to hold anything he may find, and snacks for Bullet. Since Ellis arrives late to the search party, you spend most of the game without any human contact. What little there is comes by radio and Ellis’s phone, though reception is shoddy in the woods. Mostly you follow Bullet around the woods, finding clues, listening the whatever comes over the radio (or whatever lurks in the trees), and solving puzzles.
Because this is set in the Blair Witch universe, things quickly spiral out of control. Ellis falls off the main path while running after an excited Bullet, gets thoroughly lost, and starts to lose it. We’re treated to a greatest hits version of Ellis’s past – spoiler: he’s a really, really bad person struggling with serious mental health issues – and he passes out. When he wakes up, the sun has set and the search party that was hunting for Peter now must find him, too. Undaunted, Ellis presses on, either too stubborn, desperate, or stupid to care. On the radio, the other characters talk about the tapes they found from The Blair Witch Project, the Blair Witch, and the monsters who live in the woods. It’s creepy stuff, even though it’s not always the most well-acted or well-written dialogue.
This is about when things start to get weird. Like everyone else who encounters the Blair Witch, Ellis’s reality begins to warp. He comes across abandoned camp sites that the other team never found, concrete trenches and bunkers that shouldn’t exist, vehicles that couldn’t possibly be where they are. At one point, Ellis stands under a particularly notable tree, talking to Lanning on the walkie-talkie. Lanning claims to be under the same tree, but he’s nowhere to be seen. And this is about the time both men start to freak out. At this point, the rules of reality – ideas that objects cannot be in more than one place at once, that two characters occupying the same physical space will also occupy the same observable reality, and that time only flows in one direction, forward – cease to apply. Ellis is in his own private version of Hell, and the only way out is through. But’s he’s not completely defenseless.
"Early on, Ellis comes across a camcorder, and as the game progresses, finds several watchable tapes. These tapes not only help you figure out what’s going on, they also allow Ellis to manipulate reality. If you go to the area in the video, you can pause the tape at specific times, which causes the real world to change."
Early on, Ellis comes across a camcorder, and as the game progresses, finds several watchable tapes. These tapes not only help you figure out what’s going on, they also allow Ellis to manipulate reality. If you go to the area in the video, you can pause the tape at specific times, which causes the real world to change. If, for instance, I pause a tape when there’s a toy police car on the ground, that toy car will appear on the ground in front of me. If I pause a video before a tree collapses, it will still be upright, allowing me to progress to an area I wouldn’t have otherwise been able to. You can play and pause the videos as many times and you need, and your most current video may not be the right one for the current situation. You may have to backtrack or return to an older video to find the way forward, so paying attention to each video, and figuring out where it takes place, is important.
In true Blair Witch fashion, you can also use the video camera’s night vision mode to navigate through the woods. If you’re careful, you can sneak past the monsters hiding in the trees. If you’re not, you’ll have to fight them. Fortunately, Ellis and Bullet make a formidable tag team. Bullet will face and growl at monsters, letting you know where they are so you can shine your flashlight on them, which damages them. It’s a lot like Alan Wake, just with fewer bullets. Unfortunately for Ellis, the monsters are quick, and you only catch flashes of their white outlines and too-long limbs as they flash past you. It’s easy to become disoriented as lose track of both Bullet and the monster, which leaves you open to attack.
Dying isn’t a big deal, though. What’s more important is your relationship with Bullet. How you treat him will alter both his behavior and the outcome of the game, so your relationship – and keeping him safe from monsters – matters. This adds genuine tension to an already spooky game. Sometimes, Bullet will run off. Not only does this impact Elli’s sanity, which makes it harder to see and more likely that scary things are going to happen, it’s legitimately scary because something might happen to Bullet. Sometimes the game does this for story purposes, but the difference between Bullet running off because the story demands it and him getting just far ahead of you that you can’t see him and must call him back aren’t always obvious. Bullet’s safety is paramount, so you’ll want to take care of him. He’s often the only reason you have any idea where you are and aren’t currently losing your mind or being horrifically murdered.
"Interacting with Bullet is easy. You can order him to “seek” an item or the way forward, “stay,” “stay close,” and “come” if he gets too far away. You can also pet him, which comes complete with adorable animations. If you feel he deserves it, you can “reprimand” him, but I honestly don’t know why you would. Bullet is a very good dog and he’s doing his best."
Interacting with him is easy. You can order him to “seek” an item or the way forward, “stay,” “stay close,” and “come” if he gets too far away. You can also pet him, which comes complete with adorable animations. If you feel he deserves it, you can “reprimand” him, but I honestly don’t know why you would. Bullet is a very good dog and he’s doing his best. He’s also often the only way you can find anything and, again, the reason you’re not currently being brutally murdered by monsters. It’s not his fault his owner dragged him into a haunted forest to assuage his guilty conscience. Mostly I just petted him a lot and fed him snacks because I felt that’s what he deserved. Ellis is a jerk, sure, but I had a hard time believing he was that much of a jerk.
Even with Bullet’s help, playing Blair Witch often feels like walking to your death. You know, as you progress, that things are only going to get worse, but there’s no help for it. The forest that Bloober has created is genuinely an unsettling place to be, and that’s without any Blair Witch stuff going on. She’s a constant presence that hangs over everything that happens, and the game never misses an opportunity to remind you that you’re hilariously out of your depth. Winning is out of the question here; the best you and Bullet can hope to do is survive. It doesn’t help that it’s easy to get lost, even at the best of times. You’re rarely sure of where you are in Blair Witch, and the game is not eager to help you. It’s a lot easier to be lost in the woods when you’re lost in the woods.
This sense of atmosphere, and the clever puzzles, makes Blair Witch’s issues more glaring. The game doesn’t run particularly well, though I easily cleared its minimum requirements. More than that, the visual settings seemed to be bugged, and would often display settings that I knew I wasn’t running on. I had to run the game on low to get a steady framerate, though the game generally looks fine on those settings. Were those the only technical concerns, I would have little problem, but they’re not. The game features several bugs, many of which occur when you pick up objects or Bullet tries to bring you something. You can usually get out of these scenarios by crouching or moving away from the bugged object and resetting Bullet or yourself, but it’s irritating that this is happening at all. There are also typos in the game’s subtitles, and in one glaring instance, the subtitles don’t refer to the actual words being said. Everyone in the game calls the local sports team the Baltimore Crows (probably because Bloober wasn’t allowed to name the Baltimore Ravens), but the Ravens are mentioned explicitly by name on a police report you pick up. It’s a small moment, but it’s exceptionally jarring.
These issues are a shame because when Blair Witch works, it’s quite good. Ellis may be a jerk, but I understood him and, after a while, I even wanted him to find a little bit of the redemption he’s so desperately seeking. Bullet is an absolute joy to pal around with, and the forest, monsters, and the Blair Witch herself are genuinely scary and well-handled. Blair Witch isn’t a long game – Bloober estimates most people will finish the game in about six hours, but I would say it’s closer to four or five – but it does have multiple endings depending on the actions you take and your relationship with Bullet.
What Blair Witch offers at its best is quite good, and I imagine most fans of the franchise will be happy with Bloober’s take on it. Unfortunately, the game is still a rather iffy product that needs more patching. If you’re looking to be scared, you could do a lot worse than talking a walk into the Black Forest Hills with a very good dog. Just remember that these are the Blair Witch’s woods. It doesn’t matter how well prepared you think you are; you’re not ready for her. Once you step inside, the rules of reality cease to apply. If you walk in, you’re off the edge of the map. There are monsters here, and some of them are the ones with bring with us.
This game was reviewed on PC.
Bullet is the best boy. A creepy forest to explore. The Witch is terrifying. Camcorder mechanic is clever. Multiple endings.
Several visual and gameplay bugs. Voice acting and writing can be a bit cheesy. It's not long.
Blair Witch brings the horror, but several gameplay and visual bugs drag down an otherwise scary walk through the woods.