Wake me when it's scary.
On the heels of the first of the Blair Witch games, Blair Witch Volume 1: Rustin Parr, and just in time to ride in on whatever wave the second Blair Witch movie hopes to make, comes Blair Witch Volume 2: Legend of Coffin Rock.
The game is based on the legend of Coffin Rock, an event which supposedly happened in the 1880's. According to legend, a young girl named Robin Weaver disappeared in the woods surrounding the small Maryland town of Burkitsville. A search party was formed and promptly tramped off into the woods to find her. Although Robin later reappeared, the search party vanished. The bodies of the searchers were later discovered bound together and disemboweled upon Coffin Rock, a large boulder in the woods. Hours later, the bodies disappeared before they could be retrieved and were never seen again.
If you've seen the Blair Witch Project movie, you've heard the story before. It is easily the eeriest of the "legends" in the Blair Witch mythos and a solid premise on which to base a game. It's just too bad that this game is the result, because it's about as scary as a sunny Wednesday afternoon.
This second gaming foray into the shadowy depths of the Blair Witch mythos is by developer Human Head, wheras Blair Witch Volume 1: Rustin Parr was created by Terminal Reality. Human Head elected to go with the same game engine as Nocturne and Rustin Parr, which lends itself to creating vivid, nightmarish yet realistic visuals. Oddly, Coffin Rock features quite a few daytime sequences, which look stunning and myopically realistic but do absolutely nothing to foment an atmosphere of horror.
You play as "Lazarus," a Civil War soldier suffering from a gaping head wound, amnesia, and plagued by (playable) combat flashbacks. You are found in the woods by a little girl named Robin. She delivers you to her grandmother to be nursed back to some semblance of health and then promptly disappears into the woods. You must brave the woods alone because you promised Robin's grandmother that you'd bring the child back.
Lazarus is about as fascinating as day-old olive loaf. First of all, he's dead. This is fairly easy to determine since he has the complexion of a member of Russian royalty after a night in the briar patch. Although his deadness will be readily apparent to the player, the people of Burkitsville don't seem put off in the least by his luminescent gray pallor. Even so, it's kind of hard to get too concerned about the adventures of someone who's already gone the deep six route.
To help complete Lazarus' dead ensemble, the character is voiced by an actor with all the emotional range of an empty can of tuna fish. He has plenty of conversing to do with the locals. And they have plenty to say to him. The citizens of Burkitsville are a chatty crowd. You will quickly begin to dread meeting someone new as it only leads to more talking.
Most of the conversations are exercises in exposition, which degenerate into long-winded soliloquies in which nothing of value or particular interest are revealed. If you want to actually get an opportunity to "play" this verbose yawner, you should plan on acquainting yourself with the "skip cinematic" button.
Gameplay is simple: You listen to endless chatter and then bumble around trying to take care of business with a gun and a sword (and a cross for when the Catechumen-style is what's called for.) And don't forget your feet - you'll be relying on them more than a little bit.
You and your small crew of Union soldiers kill any Confederate army personnel you happen to bump into in the flashback realm so that later, in the non-flashback play sequences, you can run away from all the ghosts of the men you helped kill. You'll also be running from stick figures and hell hounds.
Combat consists mainly of running away from just about everything, which, it turns out, is more palatable than actually doing battle using the Nocturne engine's notoriously frustrating and sloppy control.
The cinematic camera angles make for pretty pictures, but also some annoying gameplay. The camera can shift abruptly as your character moves through the scene, making it possible for creatures to attack from beyond camera range. Instead of lending the game an element of suspense, the camera seems good for nothing other than drawing attention to itself as a frustrating hindrance.
Blair Witch Volume2: Legend of Coffin Rock is a hefty title for a very short game. It's possible to finish it in an evening without staying up past the Witching Hour. It makes the diminutive Rustin Parr look like Final Fantasy VIII.
Frankly, despite all the storytelling and the pretty graphics, it's just not scary. There's nothing suspenseful about a dead guy traipsing through the forest while being pursued by seven or eight ghosts (i.e. other dead guys). It's ridiculous, reminiscent of the obligatory chase sequences in the Benny Hill Show. And about as horrifying.