The Blair Witch Project was quite possibly the scariest film I had never seen when it first came out. The hype was insane, and I started filling in the blanks with my overactive imagination. By the time I saw the film, it was nowhere near anything I had imagined, though the facing the wall scenes freaked me out. Well, to prove I have the cojones, I’m going to be reviewing Blair Witch on the PS4. I’m just pleased it’s not PSVR.
With the curtains open, the TV remote to hand so I can switch off the TV at any sign of midnight bedwetting, I braved it and booted it up. I’m not that much of a wuss, and when telling my wife what I’m playing, she brought it to my attention that I watch a lot of weird stuff anyway. My problem is jump scares and the paranormal. The first is a cheap trick, and the second plays on my mind. So does Blair Witch feature either of those? Of course it does.
You play Ellis, an ex-cop investigating the disappearance of a 9-year-old boy. Why these people put themselves in these predicaments, I don’t know. If I were an ex-cop intent on being a private dick (steady), I’d probably venture into the missing pets game, in bright, populated areas, not missing children in sleepy towns where people have gone missing before in Black Hills Forest. No chance. Just to note, the people previously missing are the teenagers from the original film. It’s insinuated, but not key that you know about the films. I’ve only seen the original, so I may have missed some Easter eggs here and there.
Blair Witch plays a little like the excellent Firewatch in that you’re isolated in the wild with only your walkie talkie. Well, Ellis does have a model phone, but it’s a 90s phone without any smartphone capabilities. Google Maps does not work here. Ellis seems to be suffering from PTSD, and it’s referred to throughout. He looks like he’s the man-baby of James Sunderland of Silent Hill 2 and Adam Driver, Ben Solo from an indie film series called Star Trek. He’s easy to control as it plays like any other first-person game, only you use R2 to interact, and R1 brings up your inventory. L1 also plays a role in that you can use it to bring up commands for a third party.
Let’s cut to the chase before the verdict and I’ll give you my immediate opinion of Blair Witch. I HATE this game. That’s right – hate. Is it because of the controls, the subject matter or possibly dropped framerates that bothered me? Nope. It was the inclusion of a dog. Never have I played a game where I have felt so connected to a non-speaking (in theory) NPC. Your dog, Bullet, follows you everywhere and will sniff out any danger and alert you to it before you can even say “WTF was that?!” I couldn’t give a monkeys on what happened to my character as all I cared about was the dog, and I hate Blair Witch for reeling me in on my rusty heartstrings. So the ‘hate’ is due to developers, Bloober Team doing such a great job creating a loveable companion. Bullet looks very much like my own dog, a German Shepherd, however, here’s a little fun fact for you; although he looks like a GSD, Bullet is actually a Belgian Malinois. If you want to find out more, read a book.
Bullet does sometimes have the intellectual capacity of my dog too and rather than walk into the coffee table, Bullet fails to notice a threat when it is literally right in front of you. He also has a habit of disappearing, so I recommended using bright colours when you customise him at the start. It’s easy for the dog to get confused as it’s easy to lose your bearings. It reminds me a bit of games like Doom or Duke Nukem (the good one) where you would wander about helplessly, even with a map. Blair Witch is like that too, but the scenery is the trees. While it can build tension in the fear that something will jump out at you, it can get monotonous helplessly lost amongst the trees. It’s easy to get lost, despite your misconceptions that you’re John Rambo and only need to lick your finger, hold it up to the wind and know the direction to the nearest pub.
As you progress, you find video clips of those that have been lost, and in replaying them, you can unlock paths in the real world – not the real world, but outside of the camcorders. I don’t recall seeing a feature like this before, and it works very well. Do you remember when I said about the ‘facing the wall’ scene? Yeah, they make an appearance again, much to the delight of my washing machine as I would be filling it up again with soiled garments. I don’t know what it is, probably the surrealism of it all, but I find this kind of stuff billions of times scarier than blood and guts or monsters. On top of that, the lighting effects are superb as I must have played the game three times slower than the designers aimed it to be played. I wanted to be 100% sure that I knew what was in every corner before progressing.
I’ve always been of the ilk of ‘absence creates presence’. That doesn’t mean I’m down the pub being a good father rather than being with my family, but by not putting everything out on sight allows your mind to build its own picture. Showing the Blair Witch would cheapen it – that’s why the original film was so good. In some ways, the Blair Witch is similar to a McGuffin; while this mythical witch is some creepy stuff, the real fear is what’s in your mind and how you piece things together. The whole PTSD that Ellis suffers from is arbitrary, and I think anyone in their right mind would be freaked out with one evening in Black Hills no matter what. That said, are we really seeking the Blair Witch or ourselves (in this case Ellis)? Yeah, I went there, but it’s to reinforce why I think that this is, in fact, a decent game, despite the ‘lack of action’ gameplay.
There was no doubt about it, I was a bit of a scared Sally with Blair Witch, in a good way. It’s not the type of game I would actively seek, but in terms of experience and atmosphere, it’s scarily good. It isn’t without faults though, and apart from the monotony of getting lost and the lack of variety at times, the biggest issue for me was the sound. When my character spoke, I naturally heard him, but anytime I was on the walkie talkie, nothing. If it weren’t for the subtitles, I would have missed heaps. I pondered whether I had the sound settings set to some unknown format, that one of my ears was broke or it was a game mechanic, but it didn’t change. I rebooted, and it still did the same thing for a couple of times. It wasn’t the end of the world for me in this scenario; however, as I had the volume so slow that it was competing with the sound of a mouse fart. Yes, I did turn it up on occasions, and the eerie music and distant sounds of branches snapping were superb.
Blair Witch PS4 Review
Overall - Very Good - 7/10
A bleaker Firewatch featuring the supernatural, Blair Witch is surprisingly good, if a little monotonous when getting lost in the woods. The main character is ok, but the Best Supporting Actor goes to Bullet, the dog.
- Superb atmosphere, incredibly eerie
- Nuanced sounds and score are great (when the volume is up)
- Using the video clip replay mechanic was a nice touch
- The story is a little cliche and the PTSD elements not needed
- A few sound glitches and graphical errors when trying to get past obstructions
- As much as I love him, Bullet’s AI was questionable
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Reviewed using PS4 Slim.