The witch is back!
The world is full of strange phenomena that defies rational explanation. The
Bermuda Triangle, for example, or why some people actually enjoy eating circus
peanuts. The Blair Witch Project
was another such anomaly. Who would've
guessed a handful of people could take a camcorder out to the woods, shake it
around, capture absolutely nothing on tape and yet somehow manage to frighten
millions of moviegoers into giving them millions
Indeed, the Blair Witch
made a lot of money -- enough to inspire a three
game series. The first of these unholy triplets is Blair Witch Volume One:
, an immersive blend of mystery, role-playing, and the movie's
own bleak appeal. Clocking in at an affordable $25, this is a solid beginning
to the trilogy.
Rustin Parr (for those unversed in the Blair Witch mythos) is the nutcase
of legend who lived in the woods outside of Burkitsville, Maryland. In 1941
he turned himself in to the authorities for mutilating and murdering seven children
while forcing an eighth child to stand in a corner as a surviving ear-witness
to his evil deeds. Parr claimed to have been willed to do these things by the
ghostly figure of an old woman. This has invoked some people to draw a connection
between the Parr case and an old lady who had lived in those woods in a previous
century and who apparently was suspected of doing some fairly nasty things.
The game takes place in Burkitsville in 1941. You play Doc Holliday, special
agent of Spookhouse (the turn of century X-Files equivalent, minus the doubting
Scully). As the Doc, you are working undercover to investigate the weird goings-on in the town. You do this by wandering around Burkitsville interviewing the locals and telling
them you are looking for your niece who has disappeared and you think Rustin
Parr might have had something to do with it. You big liar, you.
Good voice acting and well-written dialogue provide dark suspense to the interviews.
The game relies on these cinema interviews to advance the story (and add to
your clues). They also flesh out the plot and bring the town of Burkitsville
The game's setting has an old, dark and rainy feel to it and this is done great
justice by the eerily beautiful graphics. Blair Witch
has a smooth cinematic
look, very similar to the game Nocturne
and, in fact,
runs on the same engine. Trees loom above casting menacing shadows, and the
dramatic camera angles add real tension to the game.
The cinema quality camerawork, as lovely as it is, can also be a real hindrance
to gameplay. Your view of Doc is occasionally obscured by the shadows. There
are frequent scenes with extreme longshots in which you must propel her blindly
into the far distance with no clue as to what might be two feet in front of
her. This calls for great faith in the benevolence of the unseen.
The ambient sound effects combine very nicely with the visuals to create a
sensory world that has a three dimensional feel. The sounds of rain falling,
the rustlings of leaves, and the cracking of branches add a tremendous amount
to this game.
are parts of the game in which the player will become hopelessly lost. Being
lost in puzzles and mazes is nothing new to gaming (anyone remember Miracle
for the Sega Master System?), but the rich combination of sights
and sounds in this game really up the ante. Lost...wet...wandering in circles...surrounded
on all sides by shadows, pockets of mist, and the ominous sounds of the deep
is fairly successful in making you feel surrounded by danger,
even where nothing is seen. When the danger is up close and personal, the game
has some shining moments. Creatures are random...and persistent. A lot of them
are actually scary (those daemites are pretty freaky). Some of the creatures
are demonic, some material, some ethereal...there's plenty of combat here for
those who want it. The combat and puzzle elements have variable difficulties
and this adds a little variety to gameplay.
The depth of the environments lends the game an impressive aura of openness.
This is deceptive...and very wrong, as the game is a strictly linear affair.
There is basically only one right way to do things, yet somehow the game manages
to not make you too aware of that fact. This linearity means that the game is
painfully short on replay value. Beat it once and that's that - no alternate
paths, no extra characters.
Unfortunately, the controls are god awful. Learning nothing from the crappy
control in Nocturne
, they have repeated all of their previous control
mistakes. Although three control variations are offered (keyboard/mouse, keyboard,
and point & click), they're all terrible. Trying to speed Doc through a
dark and tangled forest while she's being pursued by god-knows-what is like
Stevie Wonder trying to drive a Cadillac along a narrow and twisting pontoon
bridge across the Potomac. This is a great travesty, since the game has so much
good going for it. Whoever designed the controls should be taken out to the
woodshed to be vigorously spanked.
The Blair Witch Volume I: Rustin Parr
is one of the better horror-themed
games on the market, but is fatally flawed by some of the worst control on record.
Still, its beautifully dark graphics, spooky atmosphere, and intriguing story
make it compelling enough to play through.