I’m fairly new to VR, just discovering the many aspects of the Oculus wireless headset and I’ve had plenty of great experiences but nothing prepared me for the terror of Blair Witch.
I find the idea of horror on VR fascinating. It’s the perfect environment for this genre as you’re forced by perspective to stare straight at the what the developer wants you to see rather than hide behind a controller in a well-lit room. There are issues with the format, though, including the need for developers to get the scenery and characters just right or risk breaking any immersion they might build up. Blair Witch has both the success of forced perspective and a few off the issues mentioned as well but overall it comes out on top.
The game focuses on a former police officer, Ellis, who joins a search for a missing boy in the woods of Black Hills Forest near Burkittsville, Maryland. This is the same setting as the Blair Witch movies and the real location for the filming of the original Blair Witch Project, so you can pretty much guess what twisted psychological terrors will be thrown at you here. The twist is that in addition to his journey through the dark foreboding forest, Ellis has his own internal demons to wrestle with and his growing PTSD is a constant reminder of his past. This adds a great deal of extra scope that Blooper Team have in terms of throwing new horrors at you.
Your journey isn’t taken alone, however. By your side is a faithful companion, a dog named Bullet who will constantly lead you on the right path and help you work out what’s real and what is just in your mind. Bullet is an excellent addition to the game and a great way to help move you forward. You can pet him and give him treats, too, which is a lovely touch. It does all come with a price, though. Bullet’s AI isn’t the smartest and it does break immersion at times when you can see the AI try to navigate around objects badly or clip areas of the scenery.
Aside from these issues, the scenery around you and use of light, such as when the only visible area is the light shone from your torch, plus the great use of atmospheric graphics and soundtrack that ramps up when something strange starts to happen really adds a lot of the atmosphere and sense of dread the game needs to keep the horror element going when not much else is happening. This isn’t a game where you get to fight monsters, your only weapon for the most part is your torch which keeps the strange creatures in the woods at bay.
Found footage from a camcorder can piece together elements of the story outside of your own narrative and is a nice touch that harks back to the original movie’s main selling point. It also acts as a sort of puzzle to help work your way through areas that were previously blocked.
There are a few simple puzzles to solve and, as a story-based game, it does keep you on a fairly linear path so don’t expect a wide open-world environment to explore here. From what I can tell, VR is still finding its feet plus the horror genre really requires careful setup to provide the sort of payoff you expect in terms of scares, so the limitations are to be expected but it only took about 5-6 hours to play through Blair Witch without rushing and I’m not sure there’s much in the way of an incentive to play again once you’re done but it’s still well worth experiencing the game first hand, videos can’t do it justice.