Blair Witch Review

Richard Walker

If you go down to the woods today, you're a bit silly to be honest, because apparently there's an evil witch in there and she wants to kill you. But into the woods Blair Witch protagonist Ellis goes anyway - taking his faithful canine buddy Bullet along for the ride – as he embarks upon a search for a missing child. And predictably, things start to get very weird, very quickly indeed.

Blair Witch is the latest game from Layers of Fear developer Bloober Team, and quite possibly its most effective horror to date, gradually building a tense and unnerving atmosphere from the off. Remarkably well-paced, the gentle embrace of Burkittsville's idyllic Black Hills forest with its chirping birds and crickets, soon gives way to rickety ramshackle cabins nestled deep amongst the rotting tree trunks and dead leaves.

From its exemplary sound design to the detail in its otherworldly forest, Blair Witch is very good at sending a chill down your spine as the bottom gradually falls out for Ellis and he's forced to confront an array of demons in various guises. Even the companionship of his loyal dog isn't enough of a crutch – you can't always rely on Bullet to be at your side and keen to help when things really get sketchy. Sometimes he just wants to gambol through the leaves and enjoy a quick pee.

As a resolutely psychological horror, Bloober is careful to play its hand when it comes to anything tangibly paranormal or supernatural, instead choosing to engender a sense of dread in more nuanced ways. A creak here, a whispering voice there, a long shadow, an ethereal wind blowing through the forest canopy... little things like this keep you on edge, before things start to unravel, and ex-cop, former military man Ellis is faced with increasingly troubling sights and sounds.

With K-9 trained police dog Bullet by your side, you can present found objects so that he can pick up the scent and put you on the trail to finding missing boy, Peter. Bullet will only guide you so far, however, but feeding him a dog snack, petting him, and keeping him close gives you a temporary, precarious moment of solace. If you're worried that Bullet's presence might dampen the scares, then set those fears aside – Blair Witch still has the capacity to freak you out.

Perhaps the game's biggest issue is when Bullet fails to steer you in the correct direction through the woods, causing you to become hopelessly lost. You can use your old-school mobile phone (Blair Witch is set in 1996) to call your ex-wife, or you can wind up the pizza delivery place, or play classic mobile game Snake under the name 'Cobra Master', but none of these things will help. Instead, you'll have to keep traipsing around in circles until you stumble back on to the right path.

Being lost can sometimes ramp up the tension, while at other times (most of the time) it can be hugely frustrating and completely drain the foreboding atmosphere altogether. A mite more signposting to alleviate this issue might have been a nice idea. It can feel like much of your time playing Blair Witch is spent figuring out whether you've already seen a particular formation of leaves or a certain tree just to find your bearings.

There are enough smart ideas at work in Blair Witch to make getting lost a forgiveable – albeit quite annoying - foible, from the perception-challenging bait and switch that Bloober deployed to great effect in Layers of Fear, to the red tape cassettes you'll find that enable you to manipulate reality. Wait, what? Yes, you can scrub through found footage and slightly alter your surroundings, unearthing helpful clues or removing obstacles by rewinding or fast-forwarding through time, essentially.

As you close in on Blair Witch's final stretch, Bloober goes through great pains to repeat the same themes ad infinitum, really driving home what makes Ellis tick again and again. There's a lot of telegraphing towards the ending too; so much so that you'll likely work out what's going on long before the credits have rolled. The game's 'tracked behaviour' does mean that there are multiple endings to discover, so your actions will have consequences, but not in a way that's entirely obvious.

There are no clear-cut binary choices to be made. Rather, seemingly minor things like choosing whether or not to destroy witch totems, answering and making phone calls, and how you treat Bullet all feed into how events will ultimately pan out for Ellis and his mutt. Despite its relatively large environments, Blair Witch is very linear, but ensuring that the way you play and the choices you make have an impact on the outcome of the narrative adds gravity to the game's scenario.

An overstretched concluding chapter and numerous instances of getting lost don't detract from the overall experience of Blair Witch. Increasingly, Bloober is demonstrating that it has a handle on first-person psychological horror, and while its previous games have been divisive, Blair Witch proves to be a mature, expertly devised horror game that while undoubtedly flawed, ultimately delivers the goods.

Blair Witch

Managing to make the forest seem oppressive and claustrophobic, Blair Witch is adept at creating a tense and foreboding atmosphere, while weaving a compelling narrative that still proves exciting, even if you've sussed out the final twist hours before the end. You'll never look at trees the same way again.

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Strong voice acting and the spooky sounds of the forest combine to make for a suitably macabre atmosphere. Wear headphones while playing, and Blair Witch becomes an assault on the earholes. Bullet is also a good boy, very good at barking.


Black Hills forest looks fantastic, every tree and shrub painstakingly rendered to ensure that no two parts of the woods look the same. Unless you're stuck in one of those weird looping bits, of course. A good-looking game, it's a shame the frame rate chugs on rare occasions and you can still get lost in the woods.


Ellis' movement feels deliberate and weighty, while beckoning and issuing commands to Bullet is simple. The radial menus are a bit fiddly, and in the house at the end of the game, squeezing through door frames is a pain in the backside.


The final segment of the game outstays its welcome a little, driving home THE BIG TWIST a million times over, but up until that point, Blair Witch is a hugely enjoyable ride. There are flaws and it's perhaps slightly too linear, but overall, Blair Witch is very polished.


Dig in for repeated playthroughs, because Blair Witch has multiple endings and achievements attached to all of 'em. You'll need to consciously play in different ways to achieve each ending, and there are neat achievements attached to various secrets too. A small, but solid list.

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