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Blair Witch (Game) Review - Prying Eyes

Game Spot Reviews - Thu, 09/05/2019 - 22:46

The woods are easy to be scared of. It's difficult to reorient yourself if you get lost, with each passing moment bringing night closer and making an already unsettling wrong turn seem life-threatening. In Blair Witch, the woods are a character you have to fight against at every turn. Each cracking branch underneath your feet will startle you, every bit of movement in the distance trying to trick your senses into believing something is there. At its best, Blair Witch does a lot with very little to instill a strong sense of paranoia and dread, but it struggles to maintain that atmosphere throughout.

You play as Ellis, a former police officer that takes it upon himself to head into the infamous Black Hills Forest in Burkittsville, Maryland to investigate yet another child disappearance during 1996. Ellis is troubled; he suffers frequent panic attacks that allude to post-traumatic stress from his time in the military and the police force, and he's pushed away everyone who cares for him as a result. Ellis is the perfect candidate for the persuasions of Black Hills Forest, making his ventures deeper into the woods more perilous with each passing second.

To keep you from succumbing to stress and anxiety, you have Bullet--a gorgeous and loyal police dog given to you by your former sheriff–to keep you on track. Sticking close to Bullet keeps you calm and also lets you follow his helpful hints. Bullet will sniff out clues for you to inspect and trails for you to follow, making the labyrinthine forest easier to navigate. Bullet is also great at alerting you to imminent dangers nearby, barking at enemies lurking in the trees and unseen foes buried in a thick fog. In a way, Bullet's job is to escort you throughout most of Blair Witch's runtime, and it's truly disconcerting when he's not by your side.

Ellis' vivid and violent panic attacks are just one side effect of Bullet's absence, letting the horrors of Black Hills flood his reality and warp it. The woods themselves twist and turn, with trees overlapping each other to trap you in looping pathways or rearrange your understanding of where landmarks are. It makes it difficult to ever feel safe in any spot, since you don't know where to run should you need to. The general, overwhelming silence of the woods is undercut delicately with reverberating environmental sounds that heighten your sensory tension, making you jump at every little noise. Blair Witch achieves its most tense moments when seemingly nothing is happening at all, letting your imagination get the better of you just as Ellis begins to question his own sanity.

This doesn't persist all the way through, and it's Blair Witch's more surreal elements that don't quite stick. There are two types of enemies: those that burst into dust when you shine your flashlight on them, and those that you can't kill at all and have to avoid instead. When Bullet alerts you to enemies ahead, you can simply shine the light in the direction he's barking if they're killable; if they're immune, you can easily spot them as red outlines on your camcorder and sneak past them with little trouble. Either approach doesn't require much thought and neither of these encounters are that suspenseful, going so far as to remove you from the tension of the environment around you.

There's also the occasional puzzle as you venture through the woods, and although they are less intrusive to the overall atmosphere, they're hardly any more inventive than the enemies. The main puzzle mechanic works with your camcorder and red-labelled tapes, which in tandem let you manipulate parts of the environment around you. A massive log might be blocking your path ahead, but you're able to move it by rewinding a tape shot from the same location backwards a few seconds and continuing on your way. A locked door can be overcome in the same way, so long as you keep the tape associated with it paused at a point where the door stands open. The idea of manipulating time to your advantage is clever, but the solutions are so obvious that it's never satisfying to solve the puzzles they're attached to.

So many of these enemy encounters and puzzles disrupt the flow of navigating the eerie woods that they get in the way of its overall effect, as well as the story's pacing. Blair Witch doesn't tell a complex tale, and its twists are drawn out over such a long time that it's easy to see them coming way before they have any chance to land impactfully. Each narrative thread comes to a head in the final chapters, where the subtlety of the woods is replaced with over-the-top surrealism that attempts to quickly wrangle all the loose ends thrown at you up to this point. Their resolutions are disappointingly predictable, making the promise of "your actions are being watched" at the beginning of the game an empty one.

There are additional endings to see if you follow some incredibly strict rules on subsequent playthroughs, but the one you're probably going to see on your first run-through is likely the one that will stick with you. You're only given one big choice to make that is both obvious and has a tangible impact on one facet of the ending you get. The rest of the choices are almost impossible to follow without looking up what they are first, and even then, they seem more like mundane challenges than intelligent pivots for the story to make based on your actions. The lack of clarity in the choices makes subsequent playthroughs far less inviting, especially when the faint spark of new puzzles and unfamiliar scares is no longer there to entertain you.

For all the gripping tension that its setting instills, Blair Witch can't maintain its initially frightening atmosphere and ends up losing it entirely by its conclusion. It doesn't capture the paranoid horror of its namesake in the same way, partly due to wonky enemy encounters that tread on the ambiguity of its central antagonist and one-note puzzle-solving that rips you out of its meticulously crafted atmosphere. While it's still unnerving to have the silence of empty woods pierced by the alerted barks of your canine companion, Blair Witch can't recapture its tense opening moments and carry them through to a strong and captivating finale.

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Google Science Feeds - Thu, 09/05/2019 - 22:14
BANGALORE, India — India is within reach of the moon. Weeks after the Chandrayaan-2 mission blasted off, its robotic Vikram lander will attempt a touchdown early on Saturday. If the mission is successful, India will become only the fourth nation to land on ...

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Google Science Feeds - Thu, 09/05/2019 - 21:39
The eruption last year of the Kilauea volcano in Hawaii produced the equivalent of 320,000 Olympic-size swimming pools of lava. Much of it ended up flowing into the Pacific Ocean, creating plumes of acidic, glassy steam in the process. The eruption also ...

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Google Science Feeds - Thu, 09/05/2019 - 21:26
By Tolina Rowlands | Contributing Writer. Have you ever been outside gazing at the Moon at night and wondering why it looks orange? On Sept. 14, there will be a Harvest Moon, which is often associated with being orange. The News-Register asked physics ...

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Google Science Feeds - Thu, 09/05/2019 - 21:10
Artist's depiction of Kamuysaurus japonicus. Illustration: Y. Kobayashi et al., 2019/Scientific Reports. Introducing Kamuysaurus japonicus—an entirely new genus and species of hadrosaur from Japan. The location of its fossilized remains suggests these ...

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Google Science Feeds - Thu, 09/05/2019 - 20:21
As Edo State Government fine-tunes preparation for the 2019 National Festival for Arts and Culture scheduled to hold in October this year, the State Commissioner for Arts, Culture, Tourism and Diaspora Affairs, Mr. Osazee Osemwengie-Ero has visited some ...

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Google Science Feeds - Thu, 09/05/2019 - 20:20
This artist's concept depicts the early Martian environment (right) – believed to contain liquid water and a thicker atmosphere – versus the cold, dry environment seen at Mars today (left). (NASA Image). (NASA) – A key tracer used to estimate how much ...

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Google Science Feeds - Thu, 09/05/2019 - 20:07
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Google Science Feeds - Thu, 09/05/2019 - 19:14
Last spring, Hawai'i's Kīlauea volcano commenced a monthslong eruption, choking the air with ash and belching out rivers of fast-flowing lava. The cataclysmic event—wrought by the most hazardous volcano in the United States—prompted the evacuation of ...

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Google Science Feeds - Thu, 09/05/2019 - 19:11
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Google Science Feeds - Thu, 09/05/2019 - 19:11
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Google Science Feeds - Thu, 09/05/2019 - 19:09
Physicists at York University in Toronto have spent the last eight years meticulously conducting a sensitive experiment to measure the charge radius of the proton in hopes of resolving conflicting values obtained by several similar experiments performed over ...

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Google Science Feeds - Thu, 09/05/2019 - 19:07
Scientists may have found a fiery exomoon that's like a volcanic planet from 'Star Wars'. By Ashley Strickland, CNN. Updated 2:07 PM ET, Thu September 5, 2019. Chat with us in Facebook Messenger. Find out what's happening in the world as it unfolds.

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Google Science Feeds - Thu, 09/05/2019 - 19:05
This map depicts the geographical span of the Indus Valley Civilization (IVC), showing the location of Rakhigarhi (blue), other significant IVC sites (red), and sites to the north and west from other archaeological cultures (other colors). The yellow labels indicate ...

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Google Science Feeds - Thu, 09/05/2019 - 19:03
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Google Science Feeds - Thu, 09/05/2019 - 19:02
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Google Science Feeds - Thu, 09/05/2019 - 19:00
York University researchers have made a precise measurement of the size of the proton—a crucial step towards solving a mystery that has preoccupied scientists around the world for the past decade. Scientists thought they knew the size of the proton, but that ...

Kīlauea lava fuels phytoplankton bloom in the North Pacific Ocean

Google Science Feeds - Thu, 09/05/2019 - 18:48
From June to August 2018, the eruption of Kīlauea volcano triggered a diatom-dominated phytoplankton bloom. Wilson et al. set sail to sample the plume, deploying subsea gliders and using satellite monitoring to measure the dynamics of this rare event in the ...

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Google Science Feeds - Thu, 09/05/2019 - 18:48
Our changing climate is a threat to corals, causing disfiguring bleaching and mortality to reefs that once teemed with life. Shlesinger and Loya alert us to an equally dangerous yet nearly invisible hazard to coral: loss of breeding synchrony (see the Perspective ...

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Google Science Feeds - Thu, 09/05/2019 - 18:47
Making synthetic gene circuits in bacteria is one thing, but making them stable under selective pressure with high mutation rates is another. Liao et al. addressed this problem with an ecological strategy in which they created three strains of bacteria, each of ...

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