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Blair Witch - title

In a Nutshell


  • Forest looks more open than it is
  • Does a lot with a small map
  • Bullet's glow-in-the-dark dog collar
  • Final level has good set pieces
  • Actual threat and risk of failure
  • Depiction of PTSD triggers


  • Never gave me a reason to reprimand the dog
  • Runs out of things for Bullet to do
  • Story tries to do too many things
  • Buggy, dragged-out finale

Overall Impression : C+ / B-
An atmospheric trek with an over-complicated story

Blair Witch - cover

Bloober Team

PC (via Windows Live or Steam or GoG),
XBox One < (via retail disc or XBox Live digital download).
(< indicates platform I played for review)

or "free" with XBox Game Pass

Original release date:
30 August 2019

first-person psychological horror

ESRB Rating: M (for Mature 17+) for:
Intense violence, language, blood

single player

Official site:

Blair Witch, as an intellectual property, is in a frustrating place similar to the Alien franchise. Both were innovative horror films that set numerous standards and conventions within their sub-genres, and which have been copied and ripped-off numerous times. Sci-fi games from Starcraft, to Metroid, to System Shock, to Dead Space have all taken heavy inspiration from Alien and Aliens. So much of the iconography of Alien and Aliens have been borrowed by these games, that when someone comes along with a game based on the Alien intellectual property, it's hard for that game to not feel like it's derivative of one (or all) of the myriad Alien impersonators.

the Blair Witch Project has similarly left a mark on the horror landscape. It single-handedly popularized the "found-footage" genre against the backdrop of a creepy, supernatural forest. Games such as Outlast, Alan Wake, and even Resident Evil VII all have a little bit of Blair Witch in their DNA. So when a game comes out that actually bears the "Blair Witch" name, it's kind of hard for it to stand out in the larger horror landscape.

Plenty of games (such as Outlast [LEFT]) have used tropes inspired by The Blair Witch Project.

This is the case with Lionsgate and Bloober Team's new Blair Witch game, exclusive to Microsoft platforms. Nothing that Blair Witch does feels particularly new or creative, even though most of the game's ideas are competently executed. Using a camcorder as a tool for navigation, exposition-delivery, and puzzle-solving feels pulled straight from Outlast or Resident Evil VII. Wandering through the woods and defeating monsters by pointing a flashlight at them gives me flashbacks to Alan Wake. Navigating the forest and occasionally picking up other people's trash also reminded me of Firewatch. Eventually, the whole game descends (rather predictably) into P.T. territory -- but, you know, without all the nuance or careful pacing that made P.T. so unnerving.

Who's a good doggy?

Blair Witch's most innovative feature is probably the dog companion (named Bullet), but even that feels pulled straight from Fallout 4. I probably would have been a bit more impressed if not for the fact that Bullet seemed to lose relevance as anything other than a monster compass, for a large chunk of the middle of the game. Without having healing items or ammunition or any other consumable supplies, the ability to send the dog out to find things feels like a sorely under-utilized mechanic.

Bullet is very well-introduced, and is integral to the early levels of the game. He finds clues for you, fetches key items, guides you to the next objective, and warns you of potential danger, all completely organically and without breaking immersion. But after a couple of hours, he just runs out of things to find and things to do. The puzzle shift away from using the dog, and more towards using the camera to do everything from manipulate the environment, to navigate mazes and looping paths, and even spotting monsters.

Your emotional support dog, Bullet, serves an integral role throughout the game.

False moral choice?

The game makes a big deal early on about how the way you treat the Bullet will supposedly influence the dog's behavior, but I never got the feeling that the dog's behavior was changing anyway. The game's designers never really give the player any reason to need to reprimand or abandon Bullet. Much like with playing a "bad karma" character in a Bethesda-developed Fallout game, you would have to go out of your way to be an asshole if you want the dog to dislike you.

We never once felt it necessary to reprimand Bullet.

Sure, the main character, Ellis, is kind of an asshole who has a history of pushing friends and loved ones away. But Ellis' connection to the dog is the emotional and mechanical centerpiece of the entire game. Bullet's function as an emotional support dog is critical to the game's story, and his mechanical role as a key-fetcher and enemy-detector is critical to progressing the game. It makes no sense from a narrative or mechanical standpoint to ever want to alienate or mistreat Bullet.

It's not like it would have been hard for Bloober to contrive some scenarios or circumstances that would actually encourage or require the player to be mean (or at least stern) with Bullet. An early puzzle could maybe have required that you leave Bullet behind while you go into a dangerous location. If Bullet tries to follow you in, it may be necessary to reprimand him until he stays put like he is told. You could catch him chewing on a key item and have to reprimand him before he damages it. Or there could have been an indoor segment (possibly even a flashback) in which you may reprimand Bullet for peeing on the floor.

Nothing like that ever came up, however. There was one puzzle that almost made us think we were supposed to leave Bullet behind due to a cryptic memo that we found, but it turned out to not be necessary. Keeping Bullet nearby always seemed like the optimal way to play. By midway through the game, I found myself wondering if Bloober was pulling a bluff along the lines of Hellblade: Senua's Sacrifice. That game threatened to inflict you with perma-death and delete your save if you died too much, but in reality, the game is very forgiving. Perhaps Blair Witch is similarly bluffing me with the threat that bad things will happen to Bullet, when in reality it's virtually (or literally) impossible to harm Bullet through normal play? We tried to be as nice to the dog as possible, but still got a "bad" ending for the dog anyway (more about that in the spoilerspost).

I couldn't really experiment much with it, nor could I play through the game multiple times to find out. I don't own an XBox, and so played the game at a friend's house, on his XBox. The game was available at no extra cost through my friend's X Box Game Pass subscription, so we thought it would be a decent enough way to blow off some steam after coming home from work on a Monday.

Bullet acts as a monster-detector.

A sufficiently creepy nature walk

If you similarly have a couple nights or a weekend to burn, then I can give Blair Witch a recommendation. The forest generally looks great, and actually does provide an excellent sense of openness and scale, even though the game is very linear and confined. Bloober did a fantastic job of getting the most out of the relatively few locations that are actually present in the game, re-using the same looping locales several times, but re-dressing them to provide the illusion of variety.

A few technical and control issues really do hold the game back from reaching its true potential. Bullet frequently clips through the uneven terrain or gets stuck. Sometimes prompts refuse to activate, and we had issues with the inventory wheel not wanting to select the right item. There was also one instance in which we soft-locked the game by somehow activating a puzzle at the same time we opened up the inventory. The puzzle closed the inventory and we couldn't re-open it. We had to close and restart the game from the most recent autosave.

The bugs only got worse as we progressed into the final areas of the game, which really deflated the tension that the scenes were trying to build.

There is also one puzzle late in the game that is very poorly designed. You're supposed to follow a trail on the ground using the nigh vision of the camera, but the second breadcrumb is out of visual range from the first breadcrumb, and the first breadcrumb seems to point in the opposite direction of where you're supposed to go. So we wandered off in the wrong direction and went around in circles for an hour trying to figure out what to. Stuff like this really doesn't help with maintaining an atmosphere of dread.

The forest is made to seem much larger and more open than it actually is.

There are monsters that can kill you, so the game is not completely devoid of threat like Bloober's Layers of Fear. However, the checkpoint system is so generous that a death is nothing more than a minor inconvenience. And if anything, I'd be more concerned about Bullet taking damage than the player character anyway.

I also want to say that I think that Blair Witch tries to do a bit too much with its story. The story jumps back and forth between three or four different topical narrative threads. As such, the story feels kind of meandering, un-focused, and unnecessarily obfuscated. I kind of wish that Bloober had just chosen one or two of these topics to flesh out more and tie them together, as I'm having trouble trying to identify a singular theme or through-line for the entire story. And it's a real shame because there's a genuinely clever video game construct that re-contextualizes much of the game and has an interesting point, but which gets buried under all this convoluted plot spaghetti. I can't talk much more about with going deep into spoilers, so I'm going to save this discussion for a separate post. Stay tuned, loyal readers...

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