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The Blair Witch Project has never gotten good video game treatment. A trio of games came out in the year 2000, but they had little lasting impact. And now Lionsgate has teamed up with Layers of Fear developer Bloober Team to give it another try.
And so, 20 years after the original film debuted, Blair Witch is coming out on August 30 for Windows PC and Xbox One. I played a demo of the game’s beginning, a middle section, and scene in a mysterious house late in the game.
Where the game starts
The game takes us back into the fictional Black Hills forest near Burkittsville, Maryland. You play as Ellis, a former police officer with a troubled past. You’re recruited to help search for a 9-year-old boy, Peter, who is missing in the woods. You get there too late to join the search party, but your trusted dog Bullet accompanies you.
The game is set in 1996, after the events of the movie. As you search for the boy, alone in the forest with your dog, the Blair Witch tries to stop you.
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You can see my 33-minute gameplay session in the embedded video. The beginning is cinematic, as Ellis drives a pickup truck into the woods with a sense of foreboding. A few screens tell you some directions, like how to listen to Bullet, send him on a search, and call him back.
Other searchers have left you a note, telling you they’ve gone ahead. You search around for a few other things like a walkie talkie. But you don’t have a ton of loot to pick up. You rely on Bullet to find any hidden objects.
The woods are well lit, with shadows everywhere. The ambient sound of birds is plentiful. Then you march off into the woods. Bullet runs ahead. You find a strange wooden token on a fence post and then proceed. Then you see yourself for the first time in a cinematic, where the camera pulls out and, high above the woods, you see the Blair Witch’s symbol in the form of dark patches in the trees.
The game skips forward to another swampy, foggy part of the woods. Bullet senses something and you have to run. The wind blows leaves and dust in your face. You have to stay close to the dog as you realize bad things are happening, like trees falling near you. The music gets spooky.
While this section isn’t that interactive — you basically have to keep your eye on Bullet as he runs down twisting paths in the woods — it does create a dark and scary atmosphere. You don’t see the Blair Witch, just as you don’t in the original movie, and that remains the scariest thing of all.
You start exploring an underground tunnel with your flashlight. When the light goes out, you can’t see anything. Bullet, fortunately, wasn’t as scared as I was so. So he plunges ahead in the darkness, and you have to shine your flashlight on demonic shapes to ward them off. Bullet senses them, and that gives you a second or two to react before they attack you.
You come upon an old rail car and ride it through the woods. It stops near some kind of logging shed. As you approach the shed, you get a call from Jess, your significant other, who wishes you well in your search. You tell her you see these things, and you don’t know if they are real. They trigger memories for you. This is the witch, presumably dredging up things from your past. Or perhaps it is your imagination.
At the logging building, you find tools. You see it is old, but not abandoned. Someone lives there still. You explore it in the dark, finding some objects like a camcorder video. You can view the video as a kind of time machine. A guy attacks you and flees.
You chase him, but he escapes through a locked door. You have to view the camcorder tape, which shows the door at a time in the past when it is open. If you stop the tape at that moment, you return to your present and the door is open. In the unlocked place, you find a code. It unlocks a combination lock in the first building.
At the house
Nothing is scarier than the house in the Blair Witch Project. I skipped much of the game to get there. I went inside. It was storming. It was dark, and all I had was my dim flashlight, of course. I went down some hallways to explore the rooms. A ball rolls down the stairs. I view the room with one eye, but keep another on the screen of my camcorder, which can show me things I can’t see.
I find a key. I go back downstairs to some locked doors. I unlock a door and go inside. I have three more doors to choose from. I hear something menacing that blasts through a window and reaches for me. Then it disappears.
I go through another hallway. It seems this small house has a full maze in it. But I keep going. I see the mark of the witch on a door and blood on a door. I go inside. I come upon a well lit room with a light inside. I hear a child scream. I look around and see things in the camcorder screen that used to be, like a hanging chandelier. Then I see something in the camcorder viewer that makes me stop. I’ll leave the rest for you to discover.
This game is scary and very well done. Lionsgate was wise to seek out Bloober Team. Daniel Engelhardt, senior vice president of interactive ventures and games at Lionsgate, said in an interview that the publisher wanted a developer that had experience with horror.
I got some shivers from the experience. And, again, the smartest thing they did was to not give a form to the witch, at least in the preview that I played. The witch is there, causing things to happen, causing you to distrust your eyes, and causing your imagination to run wild. And that’s the scariest thing of all.
Even though the Blair Witch is aging as a property, Engelhardt said, “There’s no bad time to make an awesome game.”
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