The Blair Witch released to a rather tepid response late last year. It had the foundations of something great but had some slight issues in regards to its shortness and didn’t deliver as hard a horror punch as one might expect. Luckily, these are things made much better via VR. Horror is much more achievable with the claustrophobia of the headset and one might not mind the shortness when it’s limited by your own body. Blair Witch is limited graphically by the Oculus Quest's hardware but if you can stomach this, this is perhaps the best way of experiencing Blair Witch once more.
From the get-go, playing Blair Witch on Oculus Quest felt different. You start in a cabin with a tv in front of you and the dog to your right. You can pause still and just listen to the sounds around. The crackling of the tv, small bits of immersive sound everywhere. This opening is scarier than anything the base game offered last year. There’s a subtle horror to a decrepit cabin and that anticipation of what it might offer in the future.
Stepping into the narrative of Blair Witch has you watch the cutscenes from the original game almost like a cinema in front of you. There is a large screen giving you those tense floating shots of the surrounding area and the symbol at the centre. The way it plays with perspective from 3rd to 1st person is a slight bit disorienting but it seems like the only way to keep the narrative flowing well without changing the game in major ways. Luckily, this doesn’t happen too often and lets you lose on the woods quite quickly.
One of the major differences you’ll immediately notice is the graphics. Whilst the area around you feels more 3D and interactive, the backgrounds feel much more static, almost similar to a popup book. You can interact with things in most areas with your hands giving a slight bit more enjoyment out of the area. The entire game feels scarier yet somehow a little more jovial. It becomes easy to take yourself out of the horror drawing rude things on a piece of paper with an interactive marker or petting your dog, Bullet.
Speaking of Bullet, the addition of VR makes him feel more essential than before. Although he was a key part of the game, his rigid AI sometimes felt a little distracting. This isn’t entirely gone here but you can tell the devs have put more work in him, partially as “can you pet the dog?” bait but it’s a charming addition and offers a nice sense of levity to the scarier moments. Speaking of scares, they are more frequent here, not entirely due to conscious decisions. The starting wooded area is much creepier in VR and newly added sounds make that experience more immersive.
The immersion is only heightened by the controls. Well by all the controls except for the sprint which is weirdly fast. You go from a standard walk to an out and out sprint in a second which ends up feeling very floaty without head bob and general movement mechanics. It feels almost on rails at points with the movement being so smooth feeling. Outside of this, you can grab your right shoulder to turn on a light, left to read notes, left pocket for a phone, left breast pocket for a walkie talkie and the camera in your right. The camera mechanics works much better and feels much more intuitive in VR. It’s much easier to point at a location and rewind it back then do it with a controller. The camera also obscures less of the screen in use as you can place it to your side or hold it at different angles.
The enemy encounters and frights are mostly better but still occasionally iffy due to odd run mechanics and some lacklustre visuals. Luckily, Blair Witch has more of a focus on the ominous horror than the outright jumpscare. If you come into the quest looking to be constantly on edge, this is a great place to start. The way certain activities work is enhanced by VR very well too. Using the camera is just the start. You can hold items up to Bullet to get a scent, call him by grabbing the whistle on your neck and you can interact with padlocks doors and all sorts of items. There’s a certain satisfaction in the mundane here working out puzzles in between the greater scares. At the heart of Blair Witch lies a surprisingly smart puzzle mechanic that is made much better by physical action. Actually pointing the camera and picking up certain items by crouching adds a lot to the general experience.
Fundamentally, Blair Witch is the same title we received last year and that’s a good thing. That being said, its linear environments and focus on puzzles with coordination and items that can be read always pointed to a great VR port. It just felt like one of those games that would work well. I can firmly say that is the case. It still has some of the issues from the base game but some of those become more palatable and others become part of its charm rather than its blunder. If you’re wondering which witch to get, the Quest version is the witch for me.
TechRaptor previewed Blair Witch on Oculus Quest with a copy provided by the publisher. It is also available on PC, PlayStation 4 and Xbox One.