Back in 2012, a little horror game called Slender: The Eight Pages released on PC and ignited the horror genre. Its brilliantly simple concept was captivating for horror fans as the genre had become somewhat stale. The objective was simple; explore the woods to find eight pages, with each page slowly pushing you further to insanity. The original was then updated a year later with Slender: The Arrival. This successor served as a graphical update to The Eight Pages, whilst introducing extra elements of story and lore. Whilst these games successfully brought the concept of the Slender Man to video games, Blair Witch 2019 feels like it fully realises that initial idea.
Witch or Slender Man?
Based on the movie series of the same name, Blair Witch by Bloober Team has just been released on Xbox. The game follows Ellis, an ex-soldier caught up in his horrifying past. After years of torment about his actions in the military, mainly in his own head, he decides to help out in a missing person case. That case happens to be situated in Burkittsville, Maryland; the location of the Blair Witch woods. What happens herein is as you’d expect; a first person horror game that successfully conveys how creepy getting lost in the woods can be.
When I played Slender: The Eight Pages years ago on PC, the game never really came together for me. Yes, it was eerie and did a great job at making the player feel disoriented and lost, but it was more a concept than a fully-fledged game. The visual style was creepy in its own right, but the lack of fidelity was certainly less immersive than it could have been. The concept of collecting notes both helping and hindering you was novel, yet the idea definitely felt like it needed more development. The Arrival helped on the fidelity front but the concept required a more involved storyline to make exploring the woods in the first place feel, important.
The full story
Upon completing Blair Witch, I came away with that very thought. This game finally added the backstory needed to make that original Slender concept feel worthwhile. The game links into the lore of the 1999 film whilst establishing its own narrative through a believable character in Ellis, and is all the better for it. Well voiced and acted characters, a thought-provoking storyline and some mind-bending cutscenes further drive home how much a well-crafted narrative can add. If you’re a fan of The Blair Witch Project and are looking for ideal ways to expand the lore then look no further.
The link back to the Slender concept doesn’t stop with the setting though. You’ll find yourself collecting all sorts of strange notes and photos, scrambling to find where to go with your often-faulty torch and trying to seek the ever-elusive enemy. Blair Witch empowers you with more tools at your disposal, which does take away some of the scares, but the notion is still there. You’ll be clamouring for whatever sanity you or Ellis have left and Blair Witch is still extremely creepy a lot of the time.
The little details
On top of that, other mechanics that Bloober Team has added are really clever and add to the atmosphere. You can find red videotapes scattered around the environment which have a special ability. Once you insert them into your camera, you can alter reality by matching up the tapes of the past with your actions in the present. This is not only novel as a gameplay mechanic, but almost feels like something right out of Twin Peaks or indeed, Bloober’s very own Layers of Fear. Things get weird at times but for the most part, the game stays grounded enough.
So sure, Blair Witch might not be the most original horror concept in video games, but it’s a neat culmination of some of the genre’s best ideas. The setting is perfect, the storyline compels you to push on and the lore is well established. Bloober Team has finally answered my “What if?” question after trying out Slender: The Eight Pages way back in 2012. Blair Witch plants you in the woods and gives you a real reason to push on through the horrors that lay ahead.