Blair Witch: Volume III - The Elly Kedward Tale
Windows - 2000
Description of Blair Witch: Volume III - The Elly Kedward Tale Windows
Over the course of the past several months, Gathering of Developers has engaged in the delicate art of teasing gamers, doling out one chapter at a time with staggered release dates for its trilogy of games based on the Blair Witch Project. Whether this marketing strategy will prove successful in generating enthusiasm and expectancy or merely result in consumers losing interest should be known soon. The final installment of the three games has now made its way to store shelves here in the U.S. and is expected shortly across the pond. Blair Witch Volume 3: The Elly Kedward Tale was developed by Ritual Entertainment, the creative force behind other titles such as SiN and Heavy Metal: FAKK2, and is based, as was both of its predecessors, on Terminal Reality's Nocturneengine.
Blair Witch Volume 3: The Elly Kedward Tale is yet again set in the town of (you guessed it) Burkittsville, Maryland and the surrounding woods, this time recounting the events of 1786, when Elly Kedward was accused of witchcraft and banished from the Blair Township. You assume the role of Jonathan Pyre (those of you who have played the previous volumes may remember Jonathan's cameo appearance), a man who was once a pastor, but who renounced his calling due to inner turmoil and conflict within his own shattered faith, and who now makes his living as a witch hunter. Playing as Pyre, you arrive in Burkittsville only to find the citizens are fleeing the town in horror. Further investigation reveals that a number of children have disappeared from the town. These disappearances are attributed to a woman named Elly Kedward, a self-professed witch who lives in the woods outside of town. Pyre offers his services as a witch hunter to the town clergyman and magistrate. He promptly sets out in search of both Elly Kedward and the missing children (sound familiar yet?).
Although the story ostensibly revolves around the Blair Witch herself, things quickly shoot off onto a tangent, delving deep into Native American folklore and dispatching you on a journey through the spirit plane and the demon plane as well as the physical realm in order to rescue the missing children. You discover that ultimately your nemesis is not Elly Kedward as things take a twist and tie in with volume one. Gameplay in The Elly Kedward Tale feels even more linear than either of the first two volumes (is that even remotely possible?). This is largely due to the fact that, in this outing, you are given one mission objective at a time for the most part. Although you are still required to complete critical objectives before progressing in the previous games, there are more instances in these earlier titles where you are given two or three such actions to be completed, giving you a least some small semblance of open-ended play, even if, in reality, you only have the freedom to complete these tasks in any order before being corralled back into linearity. The sequence of events at the outset of volume three progresses in a rigid fashion. Using go to A to get object B, and then visit C with object B to get information on D. I could go on, but I think you get the idea. Although there are plenty of opportunities to duke it out with beasties along the way, you are pretty much reduced to running errands that require you to traverse the woods from one end to the other numerous times. At least in this episode, you are provided with a useful map. Unfortunately, it might be a little too useful. It not only shows you the paths snaking through the woods, it also displays the exact location of the places you need to go, removing most of the exploration facet of the game.
In addition to traditional weapons such as a flintlock pistol and musket, you are provided with an assortment of supernatural weapons to combat the evil spirits you encounter. These include Christian objects such as a cross and bible as well as pagan talismans such as those ever popular twanas (stick bundles) that serve as one of the few real connections between the games and the film. In order to be successful in your quest, you must employ various forms of both white and black magic (including spells to bind evil, conjure fire and lightning, and summon flesh-eating scarabs to attack your opponents) as well as exploring Native American beliefs such as invoking the spirits of animal guides. The developers have borrowed freely from the RPG genre with respect to these spells and other magical objects. In addition to a meter to gauge your health, you will notice an adjacent indicator for your "mana" level. Mana is required to cast spells or use supernatural items. Each time you perform one of these acts, you use up some of your mana. Once your mana supply is depleted, you cannot employ magic against your foes. Not to worry, though. Mana, as well as health and ammunition, power-ups appear inexplicably whenever you kill an opponent (well, the ammunition pouches make sense, anyway, since some of your opponents are town folk raised from the dead), giving you ample opportunities to replenish these much needed substances.
Volume three is organized loosely into distinct levels (there are actually numerous new map loads within each section). Although this division is not as formalized as in some other titles in which the various levels are even given their own titles, the structure is still clearly evident. This is accentuated by the fact that, at several points during the game, you encounter what can only be referred to as the level's "boss" (an opponent considerably more powerful than your run of the mill ghouls inhabiting the woods). Each of these bosses possesses a unique ability and has the ability to cause extensive damage. Be sure to build your health up to full capacity before attempting to take them on. They also require more "hit points" to be defeated. The damage you inflict on the boss is displayed on a meter in the lower left corner of the screen, identical to the method used in volume two.
I have heard reports of (and personally experienced) some performance problems, particularly with the sound. Even on a 500 MHz processor with 128 MB of RAM (I realize this is now close to obsolescence even though it was state of the art a short time ago, but I would venture a guess that a majority of folks have the same specs or less), I initially experienced extremely slow, totally unacceptable performance. The frame rate chugged along frustratingly at a snail's pace. I'm talking slide show, here. Meanwhile, the audio blurted out jerky, clipped, and practically undecipherable semi-syllables that skipped repeatedly in what seemed to be an eternal audio loop (the audio problem is a recognized problem listed in the readme file). I did a little investigation and discovered that the default 3D acceleration setting is "off." The good news is that the problems cleared right up once I went into the configuration and switched it to "on." I am still more than a little concerned, however, for anyone without a 3D accelerator card (you know who you are... go get one already).
Perhaps I've just gotten used to them by now after playing all three volumes of the Blair Witch series, but the controls in The Elly Kedward Tale didn't seem as unwieldy to me as in, say, Rustin Parr (volume one). There were a few times, especially while running, when a screen change accompanied by a new camera angle caused me to momentarily head in the wrong direction (due to the fact that forward/backward/side to side movement is relative to the direction you're facing rather than absolute north, etc.), but never to the extent that it caused any real danger to my character. It was just a minor annoyance. One thing that was a problem at times is the fact that you often find yourself positioned behind trees or other scenery trying to fight somewhat blind. The extra time it takes to move to a location with better visibility regularly results in being caught in the clutches of a zombie or other foe. Then you have to beat your way out of their grip, taking damage all the while, before you can resume going on the offensive.
Visually, The Elly Kedward Tale is quite good. The Nocturne engine has repeatedly proven itself worthy of quality "dark and stormy night" graphics. Characters don't suffer as much from distorted facial features as in the previous games. In fact, they look incredibly more natural. There are some well-done effects, particularly the falling snow and the characters' visible breath in the wintry night air. The audio (when it's working properly) is acceptable. The actors providing the voices do a fine job (although there's not much lip movement to be seen). I also enjoyed the "crunch, crunch, crunch" of footsteps in the snow that foreshadows approaching enemies at times.
By and large, Blair Witch Volume 3: The Elly Kedward Tale is one of those titles that defies a straightforward, black and white, "this is junk/gold" conclusion. In fact, now that I've played all the way through the entire Blair Witch trilogy, I have to say that the whole series falls into that category. Those who are truly "into" the Blair Witch mythos are bound to enjoy these games no matter what. I found each of the games to be moderately enjoyable, although not all that enthralling. Gameplay is also too short for each when considered separately. Even though they were intentionally made a little shorter because of the obvious connection between the three stories, each is supposed to be a stand-alone game that is not dependent on the others. They were released with a "bargain" price of $19.99, so the truncated gameplay is somewhat justified. I can't help but feel, however, that you really need to play through the entire series for maximum effect. Once you start contemplating embarking on such an endeavor, you soon realize that, in order to achieve the complete experience, you will be shelling out around $60 (a price tag even higher than many of the "must have" titles currently on the market). Although the Blair Witchtrilogy is a fairly enjoyable diversion (these are by no means "bad" games), there's certainly not enough substance to make any or all of this series comparable to the large number of superior games available. My best advice... wait for these babies to find their way into the "$9.99 and under" bin. You'll be more forgiving of their faults and they'll be much less likely to disappoint.
Review By GamesDomain
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