Blair Witch: Volume I - Rustin Parr
Windows - 2000
Description of Blair Witch: Volume I - Rustin Parr Windows
The Blair Witch Project was a film that divided audiences like no other. One half were on the edge of their seats the whole time, the other half wondered why everyone was getting worked up over the shake-o-vision camera work and the fact that you never actually saw anything. The idea that there would be a game to follow up the film's success was inevitable. Exactly what you would do in this game was not. Let's face it, Blair Witchcould have been a FPS, RTS, RPG and just about any other acronym you could think of. It turned out to be an 'action/adventure', which completely buggered its chances with the gaming cognoscenti.
The game is set in the one-horse town of Burkitsville, where all the atrocities took place in the film. You play Elspeth 'Doc' Holliday, a member of Spookhouse; a top-secret government agency set up to track spooky things (yes, the very same organization featured in Nocturne: expect obligatory appearances from familiar characters like the "Stranger"). You have been sent in to investigate the murder of seven children by one Rustin Parr, a loner who lives in the forest by town, which is said by local folklore to be haunted by the Blair Witch, who possessed Parr and forced him to murder the children. Naturally, anything relating to murders, rituals, witches and ancient evil is going to be popular, and many fans of the film are going to rush out and buy the game no matter what it's like...which would probably be a mistake.
If the film confused you, then you don't stand a chance with the game. You'd think the intro would tell you what's going on: Who you are and what you're doing. It doesn't. In fact it doesn't tell you anything because there isn't one. What you think is the intro -- the main character seemingly about to be executed -- is the training room and you're not going to be executed... it's just a silly prank. Confused? I had to watch it through three times before I had even a rough idea of what was going on. In-game training modes are thankfully common these days, but the one in Blair Witch is just plain weird. In most tutorials, there is little pretence made that it is a tutorial you're playing and not really part of the game. But in Blair Witch, Terminal Reality has tried to make it seem like you're just playing the game. This leads to a disjointed mess where you follow the on-screen instructions of your commander but he keeps making comments like "When you aimed up or down, did it seem too fast or too slow?" It makes everything you do seems totally unnatural and out of place. Another instance is when packing for the mission in Burkitsville. There's a comment by an in-game character watching you stuff your suitcase on every single item you pack. Now if someone stood over my shoulder while I was packing and made comments like 'Ah, toothbrush, very handy. Good for cleaning teeth, you know.' I'd have punched them in the throat before they got around to 'Now you'll need an extra pair of shoes in case the ones you've got run out'.
Fortunately the training is soon behind you and you can get on with playing the game proper. You book your room in Burkitsville, and after a few hints by the innkeeper you get to explore the town. This is by far the best part of the game. For half-an-hour, it seems like you've got the freedom to go where you like, talk to who you want and generally just play and get involved. It doesn't take long, though, before you realise the game's actually very linear. Everything has to be done in a certain order because it simply won't let you do anything else. Want to go to the forest? Not until you've had the dream. Want to get out of the dream? Not until you've shot all the monsters. It even uses B-movie tools such as dreams and hallucinations so you can revisit areas twice to make the game seem longer. Even once you've got into the forest, you go to investigate Parr's house but can't leave until you've discovered every scrap of evidence. The 'puzzles' are also non-existent. The only two parts of the game that I can honestly call puzzles are where you have to analyse two sound recordings you (automatically) make, and these are completely trial and error. You have to find hidden messages in the two recordings, one of which is a recording of a young girl seemingly speaking to herself. However, all you can hear is static. You only hear the girl's voice when you find the ghost's voice.
Speaking of strange conversations, your progress in the game seems to be determined by talking to the right people at the right time. Don't be frightened of saying the wrong thing because you have no, er, say in what you say. All you have to do is select the person you want to talk to, and the game runs through everything it needs to. You don't have to ask them about anything or anyone, it's all done for you. Very nice, except it's all horribly reminiscent of the bastardised 'interactive movies' of a few years ago. You feel like you've got less control than you do over a scalectrix car -- at least with that you can go backwards. In BW you just wander around aimlessly hoping to trigger the one event that lets you progress. Ironically there's actually a 'hard' mode that gives you fewer clues, but as you don't actively need to think anyway, it really doesn't make any difference. You could say it's quite convenient; at least this way you don't have to actually play the damn thing.
If you can say one good thing about BW, though, you could certainly say it looks pretty darn groovy. Based on their Nocturne engine, claiming Blair Witch would look good is as guaranteed as the future offspring of Jennifer Aniston and Brad Pitt. Graphically, the game is spot-on. Nocturne's mean and moody colour schemes lend themselves perfectly to the Blair Witch mythos. Thin, spindly trees overhang pathways, rivers are a deathly pale grey and the dynamic lighting is the best I've ever seen. Your character has a torch strapped onto the barrel of all the weapons, which means any monsters charging towards you cast a huge, menacing shadow behind them. The shadows cast by foresaid trees also look absolutely magnificent, and do wonders for the rarely present atmosphere. In fact, the engine is the one saving grace of BW, so it's quite disappointing to say that even this isn't perfect.
The main problem with the game engine is exactly the same as in Nocturne, and that problem lies mostly with the camera angles. Although they're fantastic for looking dark and evil, and you can get some great screenshots from them, they're utter pants for actually playing. The problem is not that you can't see where you're going (although this does crop up from time to time), but that they're all over the place. If you're on the High Street in Burkitsville, and you want to enter Gretchen's Diner, just by walking across the road you can go through up to five different camera changes before you actually walk in. Now, this is just by walking across the road -- God knows what would happen if you went through an obstacle course on the way. Even the readme file says that if you don't like a camera angle you should move to a different area, so the developers do realise there's a problem, even if they couldn't do anything about it.
Another little niggle with the Nocturne engine is the control system that comes with it. Although it's pretty much the same as most first person shooters, it's damn hard to put your character where you want her to go. This isn't so bad when you're pottering around town, trying to talk to everyone. But when you're belting through twisty woodland footpaths with a hell-hound, two zombies and a ghost all chasing after you, it becomes more than a handful. Even more so when the auto-aim locks onto a monster you're trying to run away from and you end up heading either straight for it or into the nearest tree. There is an alternative point and click method available but it doesn't really help because it has the same problem: adequate for mooching about, over-stressed in combat.
It's all a shame, really. When the Blair Witchmythos is allowed to shine through, the game is enthralling. The trouble is that almost all the time it's submerged under a torrent of linearity, weird camera angles, linearity, poor controls and even, yes, I'll say it, linearity. BW is plagued by poor design decisions and silly little oversights such as the tip of the cursor in the journal facing the top-right instead of the top-left. Yes, it's only a small mistake, but why the hell is it like that in the first place? There's also the problem that the subtitles don't match what's being spoken and the fact that the main character doesn't only speak the Queen's English, but she speaks it like the Queen. Empathy? Don't think so, old bean, I'm off to see Bertie and Floppy. Might have some bolly on the way. Cheerio! Oh, please.
I would like to say there's a good game hiding under all those faults, but I really can't. The whole thing is just a tangled mess of inadequacies and oversights. With a big franchise behind it, the $19.99 price tag, and 2 more episodes on the way, the game was obviously planned more for the mainstream audience than the regular PC gamer -- an odd choice, then, to fuel the game with the Nocturne engine, which requires whopping specs (almost a gig of HD space and a high-end processor/video card combination for decent gameplay speed). Regardless, only consider buying it if you're criminally insane or a sado-masochist. Otherwise, leave well alone.
Review By GamesDomain
Comments and reviews
Tom 2019-03-09 0 point
This game scared the crap out of me when I was young, really good game considering its age.
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