You get to adopt a pet from any fictional word you want; why did you pick it? This is one of the questions Carla from Pop Culture Literary posed to her Sunshine Blogger Award nominees last month. And I think I’ve found an animal who’s in dire need of adoption.
You see, a few weeks ago my other-half and I started playing Blair Witch. It was one of the only titles revealed during Microsoft’s E3 presentation back in June that we were actually interested in so when we had a free weekend recently, we jumped onto his Xbox Game Pass subscription and downloaded it. Neither of us had read any articles or reviews so we didn’t know what we were letting ourselves in for – although we expected to be terrified if the original film was anything to go by.
If you haven’t yet played this game and intend to do so, I’d recommend navigating away from this post now and coming back later. There are some minor spoilers in the following paragraphs.
The Blair Witch Project came out in 1999. It may be 20 years old but that long period hasn’t made me forget just how scared I was when I went to see it with a friend at a local cinema during the week of its release. The filmmakers’ attempts to promote the film with realistic ‘missing persons’ posters and unique ‘found footage’ plot device had a huge impact on the audience; I can remember cowering in my seat while everyone around me screamed, before walking home and casting frequent looks back over my shoulder.
So why on earth was I excited about the video game? Regular visitors will know just how much of a wimp I am when it comes to the horror genre and that I make Pete take the controller during such titles so I can watch the screen from behind the safety of a cushion. The strange thing is though that I really enjoy a horror storyline. I grew up reading books by Stephen King and Dean Koontz from an early age after my dad gave me a copy of The Dark Tower, and so the thought of a Blair Witch game had me intrigued.
It takes place in 1996, two years after the events in The Blair Witch Project, when Ellis travels back to the Black Hills Forest with his dog Bullet to join a search party looking for nine-year old Peter Shannon. What starts out as an ordinary investigation soon turns into a nightmare when it becomes clear a mysterious force is lurking among the trees. Armed with only a cell phone, flashlight, backpack and canine companion, will Ellis make it through the night or succumb to his decaying sanity?
So far we’re around two hours in and… it’s not all that scary. Well, at least not for the reasons you’d usually associate with an entry in the horror genre and there’ll be more about that very soon. At first, finding your way through the forest as the darkness descends with only Bullet’s growls and whimpers to alert you to danger is creepy; but once the affect wears off it feels a bit repetitive. Especially when you encounter blockers and keep having to make your way back to the same central point.
The found footage is there in a mechanic which ties the game nicely to the film, and it does have some use in terms of gameplay. You’ll find abandoned camcorders within the woods and watching these will reveal a clue as to what’s happened to Peter. Stop the footage at the right time and you’ll find something had changed in the current environment; for example, an early video shows the kid playing with a toy police car near a campfire and you’re able to make this appear in front of you.
But it feels like it’s ripped-off from Resident Evil 7: Biohazard. This release used flashbacks to flesh out its story (zombie pun not intended) in the form of VHS tapes, in a way where it was possible to interact with the environment shown in them that would have an impact on the protagonist’s own adventure. Blair Witch’s enemies don’t feel all that unique either; we’ve had the shine-a-torch-at-them-to-drive-them-away mechanic before in older titles such as Alan Wake.
Sadly, these aren’t the only grievances I have with the game so far. Perhaps my biggest issue is with Ellis’s background: how many times have you played a horror where the main character is a ‘former policeman with a troubled past’? Shortly after loading it up I made a comment to my other-half that my guess was he was a veteran suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) – and it wasn’t long before we experienced his first memory. We’re may be only a couple of hours in but it already feels so cliched.
Perhaps things will change the further we progress and the protagonist’s backstory may tie in with what’s going on in Black Hills Forest without it becoming a tired trope. But unfortunately, I’m not sure we’re ever going to find out. Remember I said above that this game wasn’t scary for the usual reasons? Forget scuttling sounds heard behind you, monsters lurking in dark corners and jump-scares that make you yelp; there’s something in Blair Witch that frightens me far more than any of these.
I absolutely hate it when animals are hurt during video games. I’m not sure what this says about me or how much I’ve become desensitised throughout my gaming life, but it affects me far more than when a person gets wounded onscreen and I just can’t bear to watch. Agro the horse from Shadow of the Colossus, the dog from Fable II, Trico the cat-dog-thing from The Last Guardian – all good companions who didn’t deserve to have a hair on their head harmed.
We all know the outcome for canine characters in any horror media. Your faithful friend remains loyal, tries to protect you from supernatural baddies, alerts you to their presence in the shadows with growls before going for their throats. And what happens? They always end up giving their life to save yours. I’m sure developers, filmmakers and authors make sure they include a dog in their projects simply to punch us in the gut when they meet a grisly death.
That’s why I’m not sure I’m going to be able to bring myself to finish Blair Witch. I can’t stand the thought of anything bad happening to Bullet because he has been such a good boy so far, and it’s bad enough listening to him whimper when he’s frightened. Pete is kind of glad I feel this way though and don’t want to jump straight back into the game; he’s not sure how many more times he can face finding another blocker and having to loop back around to the same point in the woods.
There’s only one thing for it: Bullet needs to be adopted, brought into a good home and given a few treats. Thanks once again to Carla for the Sunshine Blogger Award nomination – I’m sure she’ll come with me to Black Hills Forest to rescue that dog.