Yup... You can pet the dang dog.
Reviewed by Liam Noble Shearer
It's not all about the dog.
When the trailer for Bloober Team's Blair Witch: Oculus Quest Edition was revealed earlier this month, I - like literally everyone else in the VR community - was instantly infatuated with the prospect of getting to actually pet the dog.
I'll cut to the chase: you can and it's great.
But the game is far more than that. It's an immersive and (at times) terrifying experience which takes everything that was great about the console version and translates it valiantly to VR.
But it's also an imperfect experience. In fact, at times, it's even a bit disappointing.
A new perspective on a familiar story.
Blair Witch VR takes place in 1996. You step into the shoes of Ellis, a retired cop in search for a young boy missing in Maryland's Black Hills Forest. The game begins with a trigger warning: it intends to deal with the profound and lingering psychological effects of trauma and PTSD. The horror stems as much from Ellis' past as it does from the monsters that lurk in the woods.
As you can probably tell, not much has changed in terms of story, character and plot. In that respect, it's basically the same as the version released on PC and console last year.
But that doesn't mean the game isn't worth revisiting. The change in mechanics brought around by Blair Witch's conversion to VR have fundamentally transformed the way the game plays.
The scares depend far more on building tension rather than throwing jump-scares in your face, so I'd recommend trying to tackle it in a single sitting. If you cannot, though, the game's built-in journal can help to bridge the gaps between play. For everyone else, it'll be kind of useless.
You are joined by the show-stealing Bullet, your trusty German Shepherd. And yes, thanks to the wonders of VR and a substantial graphical upgrade on the Quest 2, you can really interact with your loyal companion. He almost seems to serve as Ellis' psychiatric service dog, as his wander through woods becomes exceedingly unpleasant. I certainly thought it was a great comfort having him around, even if he is a glitchy little devil at times.
But interacting with Bullet isn't the only addition. Other new features - like the '90s camcorder and your cell phone - add interesting new storytelling dynamics and help to create some truly creepy moments. The camcorder also offers the vast majority of the game's puzzle sections.
An imperfect transition.
Just because this thing released after the launch of the Oculus Quest 2, doesn't mean the original Quest has been excluded. In fact, it runs pretty well on it. Of course, there are certainly a few trade-offs. The Quest's technical limitations are extremely noticeable in comparison to both the Quest 2's improved graphics and the beauty of last year's console release.
If you were to give it a go on the original Quest, you wouldn't only be sacrificing realistic dog fur, detailed tree bark, higher pixel density and decorative foliage and grass. You'll also be giving up the improved 3D models, lighting effects and certain VFX.
The game transitioned fairly well to VR, at some points making me wonder how it was ever not a VR experience. But the presence of "letterbox" cutscenes break the immersion completely and seem only to diminish the experience overall. I found myself almost angry that the developers even thought to include this in the final game.
Furthermore, although the graphical updates are nice, the game still at times seems a bit rough-round-the-edges. Especially on the original Quest, fog-walls in daylight sections serve to remind us that this game was intended for more powerful hardware. Bullet jumps and glitches like crazy at times. It isn't game breaking, but it can serve to diminish your immersion.
A great many critics decided when the console version released last that the developer's attempts to often disorientate you in the woods simply caused frustration. The novelty of having no idea where to go soon vanished and boredom quickly took its place.
The Oculus Quest version improves on this, and helps to keep "getting lost" interesting, but at times the ghost of 'when on earth is something going to happen?!' joins the long list of horrors in the Black Hills Forest.
Walking around in VR is also at times uncomfortable and disorientating, which isn't great news for a game basically all about walking around in VR. Once again, it isn't game breaking, but a few sections in particular stand out as deeply unpleasant. Not because they're scary, but because I wasn't having fun.
Let's be totally honest with one another for a second. So-called 'movie games' have an illustrious history of being absolutely awful. Similarly, VR ports usually are haunted with as much jank and glitch as a 1950s haunted house. Most of the time they're barely playable.
Blair Witch suffers from neither of these. The experience, which should take most people only 5 or 6 hours to complete, is a perfectly functional and at times downright disturbing VR horror experience.
It's not without its faults, though. Graphical glitches and a major visual downgrade on the original Quest mean that some might consider Blair Witch VR one step forward and two steps back. The fact that moving around can also be a pain only serves to further diminish what could have been an impressive transition to VR.
Is it the kind of experience you're going to play again and again? Probably not. But if you're looking for a Halloween novelty to carry you through to the first of November, this should be your first port of call.