Insert Disk collects the Blair Witch Trilogy for PC.
One of the overlooked horror game franchises of the early 2000’s. Is the Blair Witch Trilogy of horror games worth revisiting? Let’s find out in this retro game review.
Greetings collectors and welcome to today’s spooky episode. We’ve got an interesting show as we look back at an overlooked franchise of the 2000’s. Today we are re-discovering the Blair Witch Trilogy for the PC.
So to give you a quick introduction, the Blair Witch Project was a horror movie released in 1999. It was the movie that really kick-started the “found footage” genre. The movie reportedly had a budget of just $60,000 but delivered a gigantic $248,000,000 gross box office return. The movie is filmed completely on hand-held camcorders and for the vast majority of the movie only features three on-screen characters. The three US students are in the process of investigating the legend of the “Blair Witch” in Burkittsville, Maryland as part of a documentary for a college project. I won’t spoil the movie for you but needless to say, the three students become lost in the woods, lots of screaming happens and the stories of the Blair Witch weave their way in to the narrative. For full disclosure I’m a big fan of horror movies and took a trip to the cinema with my high school friends back in 1999 to see the Blair Witch Project. After so much hype the film was a little underwhelming to say the least. It’s the type of film that leaves you with that “Nothing really happened” quality. Having said that though for what it is, it is a good watch if you aren’t prone to motion sickness and can suspend your belief that the footage is all genuine. After all, being lost in a supposedly haunted forest with no phone signal and creepy noises would be a rather unsettling experience.
Now, I know what you’re thinking how on earth do you make not just one game out of the Blair Witch movie but three? Well, the answer is simple, milk the source material for all it’s worth. It was clear that the hype-machine was doing wonders for the franchise. VHS, DVD’s, T-Shirts, books and spoof documentaries all clawed in cash on the back of the supposed legend. It was then that someone thought games! A spooky game could really add to the piles of cash. One problem though, the movie plot itself really doesn’t lend itself well to a game. A movie to game conversion would literally be walking round in circles in a half dark screen whilst someone screams every few seconds.
The second problem was that to rake in any cash, a game would have to be released in the very near future while the iron was hot. This is where opportunity knocked for the developers “Terminal Reality”. This team had already created a rather successful game themselves called “Nocturne”. The game featured characters such as “The Stranger” and “Svetlana Lupescu” attempting to retrieve a powerful artefact from a remote vampire-occupied castle in Germany. It’s essentially a monster killing puzzle game. The engine was complete, the textures and additional assets easy to build upon. It was a no brainer that the first Blair Witch game “Rustin Parr” would be made by the “Terminal Reality” studio. But what of the plot? Surely a monster killing puzzle game is a mile away from three students lost in the woods. Well, yes, it really is. You play as Elspeth “Doc” Holliday a member of the Spookhouse operation. Set in 1941 you are soon set up on a mission to investigate the happenings of Birkittsville, Maryland and the case that a local Rustin Parr has killed a group of the town’s children. Unofficially this is a direct sequel to Nocturne. The Stranger and Svetlana return as spookhouse members and there is no attempt to hide that this is the same franchise. Where The Blair Witch element comes in is the backdrop to the games.
Rustin Parr is a story mentioned in the movie as are, The Legend of Coffin Rock and The Elly Kedward Tale. These mentionings in the early part of the movie serve as Heather’s research in to the local Blair Witch legend. At best these provide very flimsy links to the actual games. It’s clear that the Blair Witch connection was made with the sole attempt to improve sales with brand recognition. In my opinion all three games could stand alone without the Blair Witch branding, when playing the games it seems a little redundant to try and link this to a movie. However, it does serve the purpose of linking 3 essentially unrelated games. In its own way this is game marketing genius at its best. So what do you get for your money? I’m looking here at the triple pack although it is possible to buy all three individually. The game package comes in a standard card slip case. Each of the games themselves are packaged in standard DVD sized cases. The packaging quality is good here and the presentation suggests a true trilogy. Inside the cases are well printed manuals and each of the game discs.
What’s really interesting here though is the developer listings “Terminal Reality”, “Human Head Studios” and “Ritual Entertainment”. Yes, that’s right, a trilogy released together but by three different developers. As I mentioned earlier the need to get these games out to maximise profits was essential. All three games licenced the Nocturne engine and pumped out by their respective development teams. The more I look at this trilogy the more I realise how many quick decisions must have been made to get the games to market.
As there are three games here I will give a shortened review of each. Volume 1: Rustin Parr is where the trilogy is at its best. Although the game time is a little short there is a real story here. A real setup of an investigation, characters to drive the story forward through narrative and overall this is a decent game in my opinion. The game is very self-knowing by including Nocturne’s Stranger and Svetlana characters and even set in the initial stage at Spookhouse HQ. There’s also an excellent Dale Cooper Twin Peaks reference. The game suffers a little bit in presentation, the 640 x 480 will certainly bring back memories of gaming years gone past. The graphics engine itself appears a little broken at times. Clothes seem to blow around as if a hurricane is constantly raging. There’s also the unintentional glitching as you find NPC’s floating in to walls, and your character occasionally spinning around in some cut scenes.
The real killer though is the control system and the developers knew it. Included by default are a variety of options to control your character. Really it’s a case of pick your poison as all revolve around out-dated tank controls or awkward mouse interaction. The voice acting is also dire in places. Here’s a couple of my favourites. I’m sounding a bit down on this game now which is a little unfair. Overall I did enjoy playing this one and I think it’s worth a second look. As this is more of a channel for collecting rather than in depth gameplay reviews I will give just a short overview of volumes 2 and 3. The Legend of Coffin Rock and the Elly Kedward Tale.
All three games are graphically very similar using the same engine however, I feel that the overall narrative and storytelling works far better in Rustin Parr. Volumes 2 and 3 seem to venture further from the source material and much more in to the Nocturne world. The legend of coffin rock has some great atmosphere in the woods but really didn’t engage me much as a gamer past the first 30 minutes.
Volume 3, the Elly Kedward Tale strays even further in to full blown magic spells and mythology. Here’s where I had an issue with the trilogy. Its one thing to rebrand Nocturne as a Blair Witch ties in but it ends up with the confusing situation of not fitting in to either franchise. After all, are we now to believe that this full-blown magic use is part of the same universe that the movie took place in? Personally I think that the Blair Witch element should have been removed from the games and these should have been officially released as the next Nocturne chapters. In terms of support to the movie they really add little if anything at all. It would be very easy to edit out the few mentions of the Blair Witch and have the games stand alone. Interestingly I get the impression that the developers though so too. After installing the games you may notice that the executable game file is actually called Nocturne.
So what’s the Blair Witch trilogy going to cost you? Well, as you may expect this one is very easy to pick up and very cheap. I paid around £4 (US dollars) for this one near mint in box. There are variants of this set, some including the DVD and others opting for a three cardboard boxes. Either way all versions of the game are very cheap to pick up. So, for the low price point is the Blair Witch trilogy worth putting in your collection? Well it’s a yes and a no. If you have no love for the movie or nostalgia for slightly obscure horror games then this is a definitely not for you. If you are curious about the series though I dare say that you can pick this one up for pennies and it’s worth the entry price. I can’t see this set gaining and value over time. Volume 1 is well worth a play through and I’ve seen games a lot worse than volumes 2 and 3.
I think the set is best summed up by saying that the games are obviously out-dated, have little to do with the movie and offer little in the way of replay value. However, if it’s a bit of slightly spooky retro horror you’re after then it’s not going to cost you much to collect this one.