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Blair Witch screenshot

Blair Witch (XO) – thats not a good sign

The found footage classic (or rather its recent remake) gets a video game adaptation that also features gamings most loveable virtual dog.

With movie and TV tie-ins once again becoming a more regular occurrence on consoles and PC its inevitable that some of them are going to seem a little out of left field. Games based on Marvel and Star Wars obviously make sense but in generations past movies as diverse as Mean Girls and Adam Sandlers Little Nicky have been turned into low quality video games. A Blair Witch game clearly has more potential than those but its still not an easy thing to pull off.

There ware actually three, PC-only, Blair Witch tie-ins released back at the time of the original movie in 1999. None of them were very good though and they struggled with the central problem that the protagonists in the movies are both completely helpless and completely doomed. Their answer was to concentrate more on the surrounding lore – with all the games set in the distant past – but this new game comes much closer to replicating the style of the films themselves.

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Weve no idea why its ended up an Xbox exclusive though, as rather than the licence being bought up by a random company, film studio Lionsgate has set up their own games label (John Wick Hex is also one of theirs) and, very sensibly, hired a talented horror developer to make it for them. Polish studio Bloober Team are best known for the Layers Of Fear series and are an excellent fit for the Blair Witch, even if the game isnt quite their best work.

One of the key elements of the Blair Witch movies (were only really talking about the original and the remake here as, like most people, we havent seen the second one) is the group dynamics, where everyone has a different view of the legends and whats happening to them – which quickly leads to distrust and disagreement. Unfortunately, thats not something that is replicated in this game because your only companion is your dog Bullet, and theres no way youre going to end up arguing with him.

Bullet may well be the best dog ever to appear in a video game, at least in terms of how he looks and how quickly you begin to feel an emotional connection to him. You play as Ellis, a cop and ex-soldier whos suffering from PTSD and trying to get over a recent incident at work. He joins the hunt for a missing child in an unofficial capacity, turning up late to a search party that is combing the Black Hills Forest, and almost immediately begins suffering the circumstances.

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The only equipment you have with you is a torch, a non-smartphone, and a walkie-talkie – allowing you to have Firewatch style conversations with your ex-wife and the local sheriff. The game doesnt have combat as such, but youre regularly beset by the long-limbed creature from the remake (which according to our understanding of the lore isnt the witch herself) which can, amongst other things, be sent packing by shining your torch at it.

Bullet will sense when its close and give you plenty of warning even when you cant really see it, which results in some of the games most tense and desperate moments. Its most frustrating moments though are when Bullets artificial intelligence doesnt work properly and he completely ignores the monster even when its blatantly there and you can see it moving through the trees.

Blair Witch screenshot

Blair Witch (XO) – the use of the camcorder is quite inspired

Bullet will also point out useful items and give hints about where you should be going, but again hes easily confused and its often unclear where you should be going, or whether an area of the forest is temporarily off-limits or simply not part of the game world. Which is especially unfortunate because half the time the game is purposefully trying to confuse you, moving you around or turning you about in ways that are logically impossible. And other times its just a bug.

When its working properly there are some great ideas here, especially the use of found footage camcorder tapes. Rewinding and forwarding these allows you to alter the reality of the forest around you and reveal hidden secrets, which manages to be both very video game-y and still in keeping with the tone and atmosphere of the source material. We only wish it ended up being used more than it is – especially as the other types of puzzle tend to be much less interesting.

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When most action games are given an 18-rating almost by default its always worrying to see a horror game get less, but this is no Man Of Medan. This is actually scary. The forest visuals are decent for a mid-budget game, the sound design is excellent, and the way Ellis war memories are exploited creates an interesting psychological element as you really begin to despair for your virtual self and hate the witch for the needless torture.

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The whole ex-soldier backstory is a little cliché, and you can guess most of the plot points long before they happen, whether youve seen the films or not, but its all carried off effectively and with a minimum of reliance on jump scares.

And then theres Bullet. The fear of anything happening to your loyal hound is so intense it almost makes the game unplayable for animal lovers, allowing the game to play your emotions like a fiddle. The problem is that the games different elements – the exploration, puzzleRead More – Source

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