Preview | Blair Witch
Bloober Team has really started to make a name for themselves in the horror genre after they made Layers of Fear. Since then, they’ve made a sequel, as well as another psychological horror title with Observer. Now they’re taking on the world of licensed games with Blair Witch, working with Lionsgate Games. A couple weeks ago, GotGame was invited to step into this new horror title based on the cult film franchise. Our experience was brief, but it was enough to get an idea of what the game was about.
The game introduces players to a brand new story in the Blair Witch universe. The year is 1996, and a little boy by the name of Peter has gone missing. You play as Ellis, an ex-cop that ends up trying to track down Peter in the Black Hills Forest. Fans of the film franchise would already have a lingering hint of what to expect. At least Ellis has his trusty dog Bullet, which is good, because he will need him. Together, they investigate the woods, working their way through mysterious events that are difficult to explain.
Blair Witch combines psychological horror with puzzle based gameplay, similar to Bloober Team’s Layers of Fear franchise. The game will even bring about similarities to the ill-fated P.T. During my demo, I was able to explore five distinct areas, given a taste of what the game has to offer. The beginning was simple enough, entering a search party parking lot and discovering a walkie talkie. During the game, Ellis would have various tools to use. This includes a flashlight, a late 90’s cellphone, and a camcorder. Each tool will have their use, though the flashlight and camcorder will often take center stage.
Aside from the tools Ellis has at his disposal, he’ll also have commands for Bullet. When exploring an area, Ellis can command Bullet to search for areas of interest. Aside from that, Bullet will also play a major part of Ellis’ psyche. Commands like “heel”, “stay”, and even “pet” all have importance, as you’re going to want to take care of your canine companion. It was important to the team to have a “pet” command, and it definitely shows. They suggest that you’ll want to treat him well too, as your behavior is tracked, influencing the game. Bullet will also play a key part in the combat of the game, though he will not fight your battles for you.
While Bullet won’t fight, he will use his body language and growl to make the player aware of enemies. Bloober Team felt it would’ve taken away form the game to give Ellis a gun, so combat in the game is handled with a flashlight. Similar to games like Alan Wake, players will point their flashlight toward enemies to defeat them with light. Even though the flashlight is the main weapon, there does appear to a be a gun in the game at some point. In my demo, I only experienced one enemy, but he moved quickly around the woods and was fairly difficult to track due to limited vision.
It seems that the developers wanted to play with the sense of sight for the game, as it often creates a hindrance for the player. Aside from the combat, there was a moment in a swamp-like area where the environment began falling apart. Trees were falling, strong winds blew debris, and Bullet ran far ahead. Focusing solely on Bullet, I was able to navigate through the area, though it definitely kept me on edge. Other parts that play with vision will make the player use their flashlight, or even their camcorder light to see.
Speaking of camcorders, the game uses this tool primarily for puzzles. Players will find tapes along their journey, able to see events in the area. Watching the tape will bend reality in real time, allowing players to access new areas or discover new mysteries. In my demo, I was able to utilize this at an old saw mill, watching a man enter a building and opening a locked door. Pausing the video on the man opening the door left the door open for me to enter. It’s a bit confusing at first, but once you figure out how the camcorder works, the remaining puzzles are easy to understand.
Finally, toward the end of my demo, I was able to enter the infamous Blair Witch house. This maze of hallways and rooms wasn’t easy to navigate, but subtle clues lead the player toward their goal. Using the camcorder for light, some elements will appear on the camera screen. Things like writing on the wall, or even enemies will appear using the night vision mode. It’s also here that there will be plenty of jump scares, raising the anxiety levels quite high. While Bullet will accompany Ellis on much of the journey, there are moments, like the house, where Bullet is absent. It’s clear that the developers wanted to use the isolation to provide a scarier experience.
Overall, I was pretty impressed with my demo of Blair Witch. The sound design was superb, making good use to unnerve the player. The visuals were great too, immersing the player into what feels like my own found-footage film. Using special lighting and depth of field techniques, the game has a unique feel compared to other horror titles. Bloober Team even places little visual elements like looming figures or moving objects to really throw off the player. It’s actually rather surprising that the game isn’t a VR title, as this would be perfect for the Oculus Rift S.
The good news is that players won’t have to wait long to experience the scares. Blair Witch will release on August 30th for both Steam and Xbox One. Those that preorder the PC edition will automatically be upgraded to the Deluxe Edition. This will net them both a digital art book, as well as the games soundtrack. Are you ready to be scared? Let us know in the comments below. Also feel free to read our interview with Bloober Team’s Narrative Designer, Barbara Kciuk.