04/11/2021

๐Ÿฉธ๐ŸŒณ Blair Witch - VR Edition | PSVR | Review | 2/10 | "In 1999 I spent a summer working as a lumberjack" ๐Ÿฉธ๐ŸŒณ @PixelHunted @BlairWitchGame #IndieGame #IndieGames #GameDev

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In 1999 I spent a summer working as a lumberjack in the mountains outside of Durango, Colorado. Each Saturday night we’d pile into a pickup and head into town to the multiplex. One visit, having exhausted most of what was on offer, we decided to roll the dice on The Blair Witch Project. None of us had heard anything about the movie, but a horror movie about a witch? Rad.

Turns out that The Blair Witch Project is the absolute worst film to watch if you’re camping out in the woods that night. With no evidence to the contrary I thought it was real and - though I still doubted the existence of actual witches - I spent the night sleeping in the backseat of someone’s car. The Blair Witch Project remains the most terrifying experience I’ve had in a cinema and makes me basically the prime target for Blair Witch VR.

Originally released on Oculus Quest in October 2020 this VR reworking of Bloober Team’s 2019 first-person horror game has finally made its way to PSVR. And, let’s not beat around the (haunted) bush, it sucks.

The most obvious shortcoming is the graphics. PSVR often punches above its weight considering it’s based around the 2013 PlayStation 4 hardware. But while the best titles work with those limitations, Blair Witch VR slams right into them.

The results look like a mid-range PlayStation 2 game: low-resolution textures smeared across boxy models rendered at a noticeably fuzzy resolution. Beyond that there’s a Turok: Dinosaur Hunter-style wall of fog about ten feet in front of you. Yes it adds atmosphere but even that can’t completely obscure the visible pop-in of trees as you move forward. Some of these flaws may have been inevitable given that dense woodland is tough to render on PSVR at an acceptable frame-rate, but if 2016’s Robinson: The Journey managed it this should too.

The sinister spirits out to get you don’t fare much better. One is just a comical lump moving across the ground and others are so inconsequential I didn’t even realize I was being attacked by them. I will grant the game one thing though, creating monsters that attack you if you look at them is a fantastic way of preventing players from noticing their janky models and animation.

Then there’s the loading. Each small map is divided by stark black loading screens that can take upwards of 30 seconds to resolve. What it’s actually doing under the hood with these basic assets and textures is anyone’s guess, but you’ll spend a surprising amount of time simply watching a progress bar gradually fill (and it does the annoying thing of sneaking in extra loading after the bar disappears).

I should add at this point that I was playing on PlayStation 5, so I imagine pop-in/loading issues are going to be even worse on a base PlayStation 4.

On top of that I encountered a bunch of scripting issues that forced me to reload checkpoints. It’s difficult to build tension when, in the middle of a canned scare sequence, the next fright doesn’t load. At one point I spent ten minutes tapping my foot in a locked room waiting for the monsters to reappear before giving up and restarting from the title menu.

All of which means that Blair Witch VR isn’t scary. There’s the odd unnerving moment, but an embarrassing graphical stumble is never far away. Considering how terrified I was at the original movie this is catastrophic.

But Blair Witch VR isn’t particularly successful as a game: the VR version cuts most of the puzzles and what’s left is essentially a walking simulator in which you slowly trundle from A-B. Adding insult to injury are the pre-rendered cutscenes, which ruin immersion by booting you into a black void to watch them in 2D on a floating screen.

There are some positives. You’re accompanied by Bullet, an exceedingly helpful service dog who leads you through the game. Sure this means you spend a lot of the game staring at a dog’s arse, but at least he’s fun to pet and knows where he’s going. I also enjoyed the in-game VR dumbphone loaded with a version of Snake. That did lead to the ridiculous situation of hanging out in the Blair Witch’s creepy murder house trying to beat my high score on it, but I’m not complaining.

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