Review: Blair Witch: Oculus Quest Edition
When Blair Witch launched into cinemas in 1999 it would mark a new era for horror films, one which would see countless imitations utilising the shaky, handheld footage look. In 2019 Bloober Team, the studio behind horror titles such as Layer of Fear VR brought the world a Blair Witch videogame for consoles and PC, receiving widespread praise for its psychological gameplay. Now the team has redesigned the experience especially for virtual reality (VR) – namely Oculus Quest – showcasing why the technology works so uniquely well with the horror genre.
If you’ve played the original version then, for the most part, Blair Witch: Oculus Quest Edition will feel very familiar, it’s the same story involving former police officer Ellis heading into the Black Hills Forest with his pet pooch Bullet as they help join a search for a young missing boy. Ellis has a troubled past, suffering from PTSD and panic attacks which the videogame portrays to great effect whilst wandering the woods inhabited by the malevolent witch of local legend. As an Oculus Quest title, the graphical fidelity has obviously taken a knock but in the process of switching to VR, the sheer heart-pounding scare factor has been increased.
An important factor in most VR titles is interactivity, not so much having stuff to do more the way you can connect with it. An important aspect when porting a standard videogame into an immersive one. So the redesign adds those factors which help connect you to the digital world, being able to pick up items such as the torch or the mysterious camcorder. One of the biggest changes is the way you can interact with Bullet, who is a vital grounding point when you’re wandering the woods at night. You can send him off to search for clues or have him by your side, he will sit there so you can pet him – great if moments get a little too much. Or grab a stick and play fetch for a bit.
Needless to say Blair Witch: Oculus Quest Edition isn’t for the faint-hearted. While there aren’t loads of jump scares – a common technique in other horror titles – Bloober Team goes for that constant fear of threat, playing on your mind with sounds rustling from the bushes or Bullet suddenly growling when he senses something nearby. That’s not to say there aren’t moments where you don’t want to turn around like the sequence inside the house for example. It’s not an action videogame after all so you don’t have any weapons as a safety net.
So Blair Witch: Oculus Quest Edition is atmospheric, no doubt about that. Walking through the woods either in the daylight or at night can be a chilling experience – daytime always feels like a respite – but there are a few little factors that can stutter it. First of all, it’ll depend on whether you’re playing on Oculus Quest or Oculus Quest 2. The formers OLED display works far better during the night time sequences, with Quest 2’s LCD offering more of a dark grey. On the flipside, Quest 2’s improved performance allows for greater detail, easily seen in Bullet’s fur, so objects don’t look quite as bland as on Quest 1.
One aspect ported from the 2019 original that’s hit and miss is the cut scenes. These 2D videos are the same in VR so whilst they help the story along, that sense of presence and fear which has been so well built up is then lost as the chapter ends and the cut scene begins.
When it comes to things to actually do these are fairly spread out with Blair Witch: Oculus Quest Edition featuring a lot of wandering, following Bullet and occasionally getting lost. There are a few environmental puzzles along the way, with most revolving around the camcorder and special red tapes which Bullet helps you find. These can make items appear or even rewind past actions to help clear the way. It’s a mechanic that works even better in VR than the original.
It’s important to note that Bloober Team has ensured that Blair Witch: Oculus Quest Edition caters for most players when it comes to comfort. Full locomotion is available for maximum immersion as well as teleportation and vignette tunnelling should you need it. Sub-titles are automatically on so it’s worth dipping into the settings to switch them off – nothing worse than the atmosphere being ruined by loads of bright text just dumped on top.
The horror section on Oculus Quest is a strong one, with Blair Witch: Oculus Quest Edition having stiff competition from the likes of Five Nights at Freddy’s VR: Help Wanted, Lies Beneath and The Exorcist: Legion VR. It can hold its own, however, offering decent psychological horror for its 5-6 hour duration. If you’re a big fan of VR scares intertwined with a decent story then Blair Witch: Oculus Quest Edition will have you shaking in your boots.
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