Blair Witch fans would likely be elated to hear of a video game that would allow them to hop through the woods on their own, able to put their “what I would have done,” theories into practice, but a few minutes into Blair Witch the videogame, and that dream will quickly die.
Set in 1996, the player steps into the role of Ellis, an ex police officer joining a search party to seek out a missing child, Peter. Ellis, and his dog, Bullet, wander the woods with the seemingly altruistic task of finding a missing child. Throughout the journey, more is learned about Ellis, and I’ll tell ya, he’s tough to root for.
Ellis, as it turns out, isn’t such a great guy. You’ll, at first, be put off by all the other search party members wishing he’d get lost over the very public walkie talkie system, but you’ll soon see their point. Ellis is a former military man, responsible for getting his platoon killed and participating in some other “not great” (read, murder-y war crimes) actions. As a result, he suffers from PTSD, something the game seems to use as justification for his being an potentially abusive boyfriend, and, oh, for killing an unarmed kid at a robbery. That’s right, folks, Ellis hurts his girlfriend, loses his job because he shoots an innocent kid, and now is his chance to save the missing child, win back his girlfriend, and be redeemed. Though, this seems to be the path the game is taking, it dances a few steps further from un-problematic approaches to these issues by making it essentially impossible for Ellis to win. More on that later. It’s tough to gather what is okay and what isn’t as the game positions Ellis as the hero seeking redemption, but then stripping him of many possible “good” outcomes. Lots of questions can be asked and answered, but the simplest is, does this need to be in a Blair Witch video game?
The only real constant in the film series is having people lost in the woods. In fact, you could argue that none of characters have consequential backstories save for family members being eaten by the woods that they wish to avenge. So it becomes more baffling that a franchise built simply on “lost in the woods, maybe seeking a sibling,” would endeavor to create a character with the kind of backstory that loops in questions about the military, policing, partner abuse and mental illness. It’s a major “yikes” that is difficult to ignore.
Onto the gameplay. It’s fine. So much of the Blair Witch mythos involves ever changing woods that send you in disorienting loops, and boy, does this game deliver that. For better or worse, you’ll spend lots of time doing laps through the ever-changing woods, hoping to stumble upon the next event. There are some twists and turns, but the game is linear and made up of 17 consecutive chapters that don’t vary. Some chapters are about learning, some are battles, and some are puzzles. Using the mechanics available, and your trusty pooch, you should be able to navigate the game pretty easily since you’ll quickly learn that most* of the mechanics are just for fun, and you can only really engage in ways that move the game forward. (*treating your pooch well will vary your outcome, so those mechanics are meaningless during gameplay, but will matter for what is ultimately a blurb about his fate). The most interesting part of the gameplay is the tapes you grab along the way that are able to affect space and time. By watching the tapes, you can change things around you (essentially, opening doors) which is the most fun and spooky mechanic, and the best use of the universe mythos.
Games ported to the switch are often slammed for losing some graphics quality, but it seems like Blair Witch brought along its problems. The hiccups are obvious; yes, you can choose the colours of your dog (named… Bullet… for the ex cop who shot a kid), but in the cut scenes, Bullet goes back to his original colours. You can see the woods rendering in front of you when you make a wrong turn which kills a bit of the magic. But worst of all, sometimes you will literally get stuck. I don’t mean unable to complete the next confusing task, I mean literally stuck. Just unable to walk forward. Unable to use your mechanics. Stuck. Each time (three times total in my initial 6 hours of gameplay), I had to exit the game and restart the chapter, losing any progress made until that point. Infuriating. The controls aren’t great. You have to follow the dog for the most part, and it’s difficult to find and see him. To engage with items, you really have to be lined up perfectly, and it’s a pretty frustrating endeavor that left me pretty motion sick.
Throughout the game, you’ll be hit with effigies, found items like garbage and figurines, and photos. The buttons are limited with what to do with them and, if you’re like me, you’ll find yourself rattling through your bag for things you’re supposed to do and use. Especially knowing there are multiple endings, you’ll want to explore everything in your arsenal.
Now onto the multiple endings. I will limit all spoilers to this paragraph only so ***SPOILERS HERE*** you’ve been warned. There are pretty much only two, a good one and a bad one with some variance. I spent the entire game trying to ensure I behaved the best in order to rescue the kid and get the “best” ending, worrying about every phone call, walkie use, figurine and photo, but it’s pretty much moot. Either you play through the game and get the “bad” ending; you kill the Carver after a flashback to some military murder. Or, you get the “good” ending; the Carver kills you but you’ve broken the cycle of violence. Yeah, the “good” ending is the suicidal guy dying, guys, I told you, it’s a major yikes. The only way to get this “good” ending is to ignore what the game tells you to do. It tells you to listen when Bullet warns of Danger, something he’ll do when he sees the effigy which you then break. If you break them? Bad ending. The game will tell you to kill the monsters in the woods with your flashlight to avoid being killed. Kill them? Bad ending. The game will take you through a maze where you are told to look up and kill the monsters before proceeding. Kill them? Bad ending. The game will have you collect figurines to move forward. Collect the ones you don’t need? Bad ending.
The justification is that the “game” is the witch confusing you so you’re supposed to ignore the game telling you how to proceed. How exhausting. The alternatives are essentially whether Bullet survives or not, based on how you treat him throughout and if you leave him to die to escape a loop (which you can avoid by walking the loop until you pass out). There is a secret ending available on a second playthrough, unlockable if you collect a battery at the end of the first play through to bring to the bunker in your next play through that will reveal what happens to the lost child. In any event, the game creates the illusion of choice and varying endings but they boil down to; get through the game and get the “bad ending” then check online to learn to ignore the game, try again, and get the “good ending.” The 17 chapters remain linear and you won’t be unlocking secrets the way you might in Until Dawn.
So it the game fun and scary? It’s fine. The bugs make it frustrating but it’s otherwise, kind of a trip to be wandering through the cursed woods. The final chapter is by a landslide my favourite part because it’s scary as hell and takes you through a version of the films’ climaxes. I was definitely scared throughout. However, there are a lot of confusing loops and much of it involves doubling back to see the layout has changed, which is fun for a while but ultimately could have been much shorter. By the time I arrived at the final chapter, I was so beaten up from loop wandering in the woods that I was just eager to get to the end and grew tired of the ever changing maze.
Ultimately, Blair Witch might be worth it if you’re a fan of the lore and want to take a linear trip through what appears to be a maze. It has some good scares, and film universe easter eggs that make it something to do. But the glitches make it difficult to get through and highlight the frustrating nature of the loops when you’re forced to do them more than once. The twists and turns don’t really exist, and the game is mostly a linear trek to a sad ending. Worse of all, the game takes a massive reach towards story that it had no business or need to take. It’s a massive swing and a miss from a game that could have easily just focused on a lost camper.