Note: Review was originally posted July 11, 2003
Release Date: September 2000
This game should have been titled Blair Witch Volume 1: Lost in the Woods, for that is exactly where half my game was spent. Sure, I had a compass in my inventory, but I'm a man, dammit, and real men don't use compasses (nor do we stop and ask for directions when driving even if we have been hopelessly lost for weeks). And really, when you are as directionally challenged as I am, what good is a compass? To put it another way--and mothers, you may want to cover your children's ears as I am about to utter a four-letter word of the worst magnitude--half of Blair Witch is a ... maze. The bane of every adventure gamer; the most vile creation in the history of gaming. Sure, the woods are spooky with their rustling leaves, the wind whipping through the trees, and the ghostly screeches creeping from your speakers into your darkened computer room. Sure, you can eventually memorize the paths in the forest, especially after you have wandered through the same areas dozens of times, but what happens once you have accomplished this feat? Why, the Blair Witch casts a hex on the woods that alters the layout of the paths. Phooey, I say to the Blair Witch (jeez, I hope she really doesn't exist!).
Blair Witch Volume 1: Rustin Parr is the first of a trilogy that will go backwards in time as the games are released over a three-month period. According to the fictional tale, seven children disappeared from the town of Burkittsville during the early 1940s. Then in 1941, a hermit named Rustin Parr left his house deep in the forest, trudged into town, and told the local shopkeeper, "I'm finally finished." Six of the children were found murdered in Parr's basement; Kyle Brody was left alive and standing in the corner. Parr claimed that a voice in his head had guided his actions. This story will be familiar to those who saw the film, as Parr's house was the site of the final expository scene. The murders and the mystery as to why Kyle Brody was permitted to live are the subject of the first entry in Gathering of Developers' three-game Blair Witch series.
Doc Holliday, a minor character in Nocturne, is the star of Blair Witch. She is sent to Burkittsville to investigate the suspicious murders--with a promise from the Stranger that he will appear if needed. During the course of the story, she will discover the mystery of the "twana," the mysterious configuration of twigs that haunt the woods, and the mystery of the Blair Witch. The graphics and action engine of Nocturne have been reproduced, so if you were a fan of that game, then you can jump right into Blair Witch's gameplay.
To be fair, what Blair Witch does do right, it does better than any game on the market: it takes the time to establish a credible background story with believable characters who have distinct personalities. The occupants of the town of Burkittsville, the setting for the game, all have an eerie edge about them that keeps you guessing as to who is speaking the truth and who is being deceptive. The wonderful voice acting and well-crafted conversations are as well-written and delivered better than any game currently available. The vivid recreation of a 1940s rural American town is flawless down to the painted advertisements on the side of weather-beaten wooden buildings.
So where does Blair Witch detour from a journey to hell to a hell of a bore? It all begins in the forest.
Even under optimal conditions, horror is difficult to sustain. In a computer game, it is almost impossible, but it has been done. Amber, The Dark Eye, and System Shock 2 are but a few examples of games that literally keep you on the edge of your seat, games that you cannot wait to return to after a hard day at work.Blair Witch also contains some of the scarier scenes in modern computer gaming: blood dripping from an unknown source in the town library, a ghostly visit to the Rustin Parr abode, a meeting with a specter. But the game never builds upon these horrific scenarios; instead it constantly destroys the momentum by thrusting you back into the woods to battle devil-hounds and zombies and twig-monsters. Every journey to the forest consists of endless conflicts and woodland tramping. There is never any true exploration of the woods; they are always the same (unless they have been magically enchanted), and it is never more than a simple matter of journeying from point A to point B and back to point A, ad infinitum.
Without giving away any of the plot, consider the following mini-synopsis of the game: you begin at the Spookhouse for a briefing and then find yourself chosen to solve the Rustin Parr murders in the town of Burkittsville. After spending an evening and a day speaking with the town's remaining inhabitants, it is time to go into the woods. The remainder of the game is as follows:
Go to Coffin Rock
Go to Parr's house
Find Indian shaman
Return to Burkittsville
Visit Indian shaman
Go to Parr's house
Go to Coffin Rock
Visit Indian shaman
Go back to Coffin Rock
Go back to Indian
and on and on and on ...
After the first visit to the woods, there should have been an option to click on a map to convey you to your next location. Instead, every single visit to the woods breaks not only the momentum of the game but diminishes any suspense that has been fabricated. Yes, this would have shortened the gameplay in an already short game, but it also would have made it a tighter, more suspenseful product.
Still, Terminal Reality and G.O.D. are to be commended for releasing this groundbreaking game. Blair Witch Volume 1is the first of a trilogy that is to be released for three successive months at a retail price of $19.99. But, just as a friend's most looked-forward-to game, Arcatera, turned into her biggest disappointment of the year, so has Blair Witch for me. The talent is there, as is a "feel" for the product, but if you want to break new ground, then you need to let go of outdated traditions. The gunplay is totally out of place, and the forest mazes are ... well, I've said enough about them. G.O.D. has shown that they are willing to listen to their critics and incorporate their suggestions for improvements. Well, your biggest mark is begging you to decide upon a course and stay steady because this awkward mixture of adventure broken up by periodic actions sequences just ain't cutting it for me.
Final Grade: C
If you liked Blair Witch Volume 1:
Watch: The Blair Witch Project
Read: The Witch's Bible
PII 233 or higher
64 MB RAM
Mouse/keyboard or gamepad