Blair Witch: Volume II - The Legend of Coffin Rock
Windows - 2000
Description of Blair Witch: Volume II - The Legend of Coffin Rock Windows
Gathering of Developers continues their Blair Witch trilogy with the recent release of Blair Witch Volume 2: The Legend of Coffin Rock. The timing of this second installment in the series hitting store shelves coincided almost perfectly with the release of the new film, Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2, not to mention that both the film and the game were strategically made available to the public very near Halloween, a time when consumers are more prone to search out products (games included) steeped in ghosts, ghouls, and various other occult related topics.
Legend of Coffin Rock, developed by Human Head Studios, is once again driven by the Nocturne engine. Whereas Volume 1: Rustin Parr showed off the dark and foreboding textures of the Nocturne engine in full force, however, Coffin Rock incorporates a little more color and light. Even the nighttime scenes are lit more brightly (perhaps there's a full moon?), causing this chapter of the trilogy to lack the same eerie and unsettling environments of its predecessor. Colors still aren't vibrant, but they merely make the landscape reminiscent of a pleasant mid-Winter day rather than housing an ominous and foreboding evil presence. What Legend of Coffin Rock lacks in fright factor, though, it makes up for with an intriguing storyline.
This supernatural tale is once again set in the town of Burkittsville, Maryland, this time taking place in the year 1886. You assume the role of Lazarus, a man suffering from amnesia due to a head wound. A young girl named Robin Weaver (yes, this is the same Robin Weaver encountered in volume 1) and her grandmother take you into their home and tend to your injuries. When young Robin disappears in the woods shortly after your arrival, a search party is formed. Robin's grandmother informs you that the search party is doomed, however. She is convinced that the townspeople combing the woods for her granddaughter are being led to their deaths by an unearthly force that inhabits the vicinity, and believes that you, alone, can find the girl. As you embark upon this quest, you begin to experience flashbacks to the year 1863. Little by little you recall your past, serving as a Lieutenant in the Union Army during the civil war. As your journey progresses, you gradually begin to remember a terrifying sequence of events that unfolded years earlier while your company was scouring these same woods for Confederate raiders. Each location you visit in 1886 sparks a repressed memory of the events that happened there in 1863 to resurface. Only by unlocking the secrets of your past can you defeat the evil which, even now, lurks in the woods surrounding Burkittsville.
The use of flashbacks increases the length of the game by requiring you to essentially visit each location twice. The incorporation of two different time frames and the variety of events happening in each allows for this repetition while avoiding a sense of monotony. Additionally, each area of the woods is unique. You're not required to keep wandering through the same set of paths five or six different times like you have to in Rustin Parr. Although all this bouncing back and forth between time periods has the potential to cause some slight disorientation at the outset of the game, it soon became apparent how the flashback sequences were incorporated into the storyline. These flashback episodes are actually quite well organized in an effort to minimize confusion. As long as you pay close attention early on, you shouldn't experience any problem understanding the introductory sequences of the game. These tutorials are considerably less confusing than the tutorial in the opening minutes of the previous game. Plus, there's little question of which timeframe you're in because each flashback begins with a journal entry stating the date, not to mention the obvious wardrobe change to a civil war uniform.
One moment where a slight amount of confusion is still evident occurs at the conclusion of the game. It seems to be a widely accepted concession in the Blair Witch universe to make endings as "thought provoking" as possible. Of course, the argument could be made that these endings are, at times, nonsensical. The dénouement of Legend of Coffin Rock thankfully belongs to the former group and not the latter. I won't spoil the ending for you, but I will mention that it once again hints at a blurring of the laws governing time. While I wouldn't classify it as a cliffhanger exactly, it does raise some unanswered questions. Whether or not these questions will be answered in the next game is yet to be seen, but I think there's definitely a veiled allusion to events still to come (well, technically they're events that have already occurred since volume 3 is slated to be set all the way back in 1783).
Legend of Coffin Rock is played, as was its predecessor, in third person perspective. This can at times cause some difficulty with navigation and particularly with aiming weapons at your adversaries, although the controls actually seem a little more responsive and easier to handle than in volume 1. Battling ghosts and stick men, while still challenging, did not pose the same problematic issues as than Rustin Parr. There are a significant number of twanas (the inanimate variety, not the attacking stickmen) that serve as health packs scattered about the environment. There are also plenty of opportunities to replenish your ammunition. You can confiscate bullets from the bodies of Confederate soldiers you've defeated but you will also occasionally happen upon a pile of them just laying on the ground (which makes sense since you are walking around a battlefield).
You have a small variety of weapons at your disposal but this shouldn't be much cause for concern. The revolver is a good all around weapon, able to fell most any opponent. In addition, you have a handy saber that is especially useful when you are low on ammunition. I realize this is a minor point, but I found it odd that a saber and a revolver were effective weapons against spirits. Gameplay is still quite linear but, unlike Rustin Parr, your goal is almost always evident. Volume 2 is also a lot less frustrating than volume 1, due in large part to the exclusion of a maze in the woods. Don't misunderstand, you still have to do a lot of exploring in the woods, but you won't encounter "hexed" paths where your map is useless. In fact, there is no map. Charting a course through the woods is intuitive enough not to require one. Another new feature is the inclusion of several "boss" monsters. I thought that the first one I encountered was the Blair Witch herself, Elly Kedward but, in actuality, she was described generically as a "hag." In order to complete the game, you must defeat another "boss," this time a demon more reminiscent of a Half Life alien than an evil spirit. When you face off against these adversaries, a gauge is displayed showing the enemies "hit points." You will need to continually peg away at them until this meter reaches zero, avoiding their counterattacks in the process.
Overall, I found Blair Witch Volume 2: The Legend of Coffin Rock to be a valiant effort, but it could have used a healthier dose of genuine scares. I would classify this game as more of a supernatural mystery than a horror title. Approached from this perspective it's not half bad. Its unique storyline and gradual unraveling of clues to discover your own identity and defeat the witch (albeit temporarily as evidenced by the events chronicled in volume 1) made The Legend of Coffin Rock somewhat more enjoyable to play than Rustin Parr, but it lacked the unnerving tension and suspense of this previous title. This game could have been a lot better if the level of attention that went into the writing had been applied to creating more eerie surroundings and truly frightening opponents. I'm sorry, but there's absolutely nothing even remotely scary about animated bundles of sticks. To date, Gathering of Developers has given us two fairly decent but hardly outstanding games based on the Blair Witch mythos. It will be interesting to see if the third time's a charm. The third and final volume of the Blair Witch trilogy, entitled Blair Witch Volume 3: The Elly Kedward Tale is due out this month.
Review By GamesDomain
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