by July 8, 2020 @ 11:32 am
Reviewed on Switch
The Blair Witch Project took moviegoers by storm when it first released in 1999. The film popularized the found footage genre, and while years later people remain divided over its actual quality, there’s no denying that it is an important part of horror history. Blair Witch from Layers of Fear developer Bloober Team fits right in with the film series. The game isn’t perfect — in fact, some serious bugs hamper the experience — but it is chilling, and there are genuine moments of terror that may just scare even the most jaded horror fans.
Released last year on PC, Xbox One, and PlayStation 4, the Switch version of Blair Witch has finally arrived. It’s not without some of the same issues that affected the other versions of the game, but if you’ve been holding out on this edition, you’ll be glad to know that this transition is pretty decent. If you can look past some glaring problems, that is.
Alone in the Woods
You play as Ellis Lynch, a former police officer who’s dealing with some personal issues. Well, that may be putting it lightly. You’ll find out through flashback sequences that Ellis can be a big jerk. There’s a deeper story to that, though, that you discover as you play. Ellis has joined a search party to find a boy who went missing in Black Hills Forest. With him is Bullet, an awesome German Shepherd who’s an essential part of the gameplay in Blair Witch. (He also enjoys treats and scratches behind his ear!)
Things quickly get creepy when you get to the woods and realize everyone’s already taken off in search of the lost child. You set out on your own with your doggy pal, and it’s within mere minutes that Blair Witch introduces you to its horror atmosphere. Black Hills Forest is a big, imposing, and beautiful place. You’re surrounded by trees and the sounds of nature, and the hefty crunch of leaves with every step you take helps build the game’s alone-in-the-woods vibe.
Blair Witch blends exploration with puzzle-solving, and neither of these gameplay elements is flawless. The paths in Black Hills Forest can be pretty linear, but even then, because you’re surrounded by green leaves and tall trees, you’re bound to get lost, inadvertently backtrack to locations you’ve already been, and hit numerous dead ends. If you’re a die-hard horror movie fan, it’s possible you’ll dig this. As a huge fan of the genre, there was something unique and exciting about getting lost in the woods. It was actually kind of scary, even if it did get frustrating after a while.
The puzzles in Blair Witch are often either too easy or too vague. Aside from good boy Bullet, Ellis can also access a camcorder, flashlight, cellphone, and walkie-talkie from the get-go. You’ll also find tapes, pictures, and other clues along the way. All of these tools are used to solve certain puzzles.
Red tapes you find that can be played on your camcorder are a major part of the puzzle-solving aspect of Blair Witch, and these are the most problematic. Playing a tape on your camcorder can affect the environment around you, and in most instances, this is required to progress. The problem is that you’ll have to rewind, search for, and play very specific parts of the tape to get results. You’ll also have to be in a specific area while doing so — otherwise you’ll miss events and thus won’t be able to move forward with the story.
While there is undoubtedly a level of novelty to these tape-based puzzles, I couldn’t help but get a wild-goose-chase vibe from them, as well. It’s a shame, because the camcorder stuff can be pretty interesting, especially because it’s a callback to The Blair Witch Project.
Unless you want to spend way too much time backtracking and getting stuck at certain points, it’s kind of worth recommending keeping a playthrough guide handy. Definitely refrain from reading or watching it all the way through, but keep it nearby as doing so could save you some frustration.
A Slow Build to Climactic Terror
The interesting thing about Blair Witch is how it seems to be inspired by the current trend of slow-burn horror films. You’re not going to find instant scares here. In fact, the game doesn’t really get scary until the last few hours. But even then, it’s always creepy, and you constantly feel uneasy as you walk through the woods. Every time you hear Bullet whimpering, you’ll feel like there’s something nearby, ready to get you. You don’t know what it is, but you just feel it.
Obviously, if you’re more into the action-based horror of something like Resident Evil 3 or the psychological thrills of Amnesia or Bloober Team’s own Layers of Fear, you’re not going to get too much of that here. That said, if you dig films like The Witch, Gretel and Hansel, and (obviously) The Blair Witch Project, you’ll like the more methodical approach to horror found in this game.
Unfortunately, Blair Witch does fall victim to some pretty bad bugs along the way. No, not actual insects — that would be scary on a whole different level — but rather a few serious glitches. During my time with the game, I experienced quite a few issues throughout. There were moments when Bullet would get stuck. I figured I might not be doing something correctly, so I reloaded my save, only to find that I wasn’t experiencing the same issue. My character also once fell completely off the map. This became problematic because it meant losing a chunk of progress.
I’m very glad to report that I didn’t experience any game-breaking bugs, but the few issues I did find meant I had to reload saves and lose progress more than a handful of times. It’s the sort of thing that can really take away from the enjoyment and chills there are to be found in a horror game as something like falling off the map takes you away from the horror experience and completely removes your suspension of disbelief.
Even with these bugs, though, if you dig the way Blair Witch tells its horror story, it’s worth recommending to continue pushing forward as the game builds from creepy to scary quite wonderfully.
There’s no denying that playing a horror game on a big TV with all the lights off is an incredible experience. But there’s also something to be said about the personal nature of playing a game like Blair Witch on a handheld with headphones on. The Switch affords you both options. I loved playing the game on the couch with the lights off and with the Switch held close to my face. It created a very unique and personal experience, and it made the game feel scarier.
As far as performance goes, the Switch version of Blair Witch plays well, with no real performance issues other than the bugs (which can also be found on other versions). The graphics have taken a dip in quality, but even then the game still looks good.
Like the film series it’s based on, Blair Witch won’t be for everyone. This is especially true given the serious bugs you’ll have to deal with as you play. Still, if you want a thrilling, atmospheric horror game that you can play either on your TV or in handheld mode, the Switch version of Blair Witch is worth checking out.
Score: 6 out of 10
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