Tuesday, August 20, 2019
Dark forests are scary. Old abandoned houses in the middle of nowhere are scary. Unknown apparitions pursuing you are also, presumably, very scary. Twenty years ago, The Blair Witch Project was rather scary too, its found footage format supported by some neat viral marketing that almost made it seem like some sort of factual account. Sequels have failed to do much justice to the Blair Witch lore since then, but Layers of Fear developer Bloober could be poised to change all that with a new psychological horror take, aptly titled Blair Witch.
You play as former cop and ex-military man Ellis, who with his K-9 trained dog Bullet in tow, ventures into the woods to track down missing child, Peter. This is, of course, a very bad idea as Ellis quickly discovers, as the forest and practically everything within said forest is determined to stop him at every turn. Less preoccupied with jump scares and more focused upon generating a genuine sense of terror and foreboding atmosphere, Blair Witch's threats are resolutely supernatural, but you can rest assured that you'll never see the witch herself.
Instead, the eponymous witch is described by Bloober as a “force of nature,” and Ellis is susceptible to the effects of an all-pervading curse that envelops the forest. Fortunately, Bullet is less sensitive to the witch's curse, making him your anchor within reality and your guide through the dense woods when you're lost. At the touch of a button, you can beckon Bullet with a whistle and bring him running back to your side. And yes, you can pet him too, if you like.
Blair Witch does a good job in engendering a sense of tension and unease, although the half-hour hands-on demo we played didn't fully deliver a real, cohesive idea of how the full game will keep you teetering on the edge of your seat. Cherry-picking five short scenes from the game, the demo merely hinted at the weirdness you'll encounter, like, for instance, a found note that details a man carrying “the pelt of a skinned human”. He's around, and in all probability, you're going to have a run-in with him.
You might never see the witch then, but there will most definitely be monsters. Whether these are manifested in reality or conjured to life via your broken brain will presumably become clear as the narrative unfolds, but you can safely bet that all is not as it seems, especially with the studio behind Layers of Fear and its sequel at the helm.
Leveraging its experience with Layers, Bloober's Blair Witch has similar perception-warping mechanics, special red video tapes you track down enabling you to manipulate your environment by playing them on your camcorder. It's a smart way of integrating found footage into a game based upon a notorious found footage movie, while revealing more of the story via a different medium. Like Outlast, your camera has a night vision mode too, although you can't always rely on it working.
Hell, you can't even guarantee that your humble flashlight will always illuminate the way; not because you have to feed it batteries (you don't), but because the unpredictability of Blair Witch's world can extinguish your only sources of comfort – namely light – at any time. The knowledge that the Blair Witch's power over nature means that anything can happen will keep you on your toes, and even having Bullet as your canine companion by no means ensures your safety.
"Ellis doesn't want anything bad to happen to Bullet but at the same time it's not like a traditional human companion who can take care of things on his own," Bloober's Maciej Glomb tells us. And how you treat the dog is one of the tracked behaviours in the game that will determine your path and ultimately your fate in Blair Witch. You'll be able to receive and make calls via your old-school mobile phone to ex-wife Jess and others, while any witch totems you find can be destroyed or preserved. These actions are all tracked too, leading to a range of different endings.
Bloober is experimenting with some fairly smart ideas for Blair Witch, and while the fortunes of movie tie-ins haven't been particularly good of late (or, let's be honest, ever), the Polish developer is clearly treating this as a labour of love. Whether Blair Witch can deliver sustained terror and a disturbing atmosphere throughout remains to be seen, but so far, things are looking very promising indeed.
Blair Witch is coming to Xbox One and PC on 30th August.
Tuesday, August 20, 2019 @ 08:39 AM
Tuesday, August 20, 2019 @ 01:10 PM
Tuesday, August 20, 2019 @ 05:24 PM
Thursday, August 22, 2019 @ 01:58 PM