|So Ive been
playing Ritual Entertainments Blair Witch Volume 3: The Elly Kedward Tale.
And if youre like me, then maybe youre hoping that this game will finally
vindicate the Blair Witch franchise with a powerful story and characters
worthy of the creepy, atmospheric tone created and exploited by those zany kids over at
Hexan. After all, Elly transports players back to the time when and the place where
all this damned witch mess started. But if Elly follows the trajectory of the other
Blair Witch releases, then were in for trouble. Lets face it, the
Blair Witch phenomenon has been The Great Rock n Roll Swindle
all over again, but without Sydneys smack and those plane tickets to Rio.
To be honest, the
game looks good so far. It employs the Nocturne engine and generates brilliant
atmospherics and real time climate effects. In this reviewers regrettable remarks on
Nocturne, that previous review didnt really address how beautiful games
created with this engine can look. Now Ive got a second chance. Snow falls flake by
flake in the streets and forests; gnarled tree trunks and limps cast jagged shadows on the
forest snowy forest floor; river water glints and burbles under the moonlight. All in all,
Elly looks very believable. In fact, the environments are so realistically pretty
that the characters can, at times, look awkward and cartoonish in them. This potentially
jarring visual vocabulary wasnt really a problem in Nocturne, in which the
overstated characters suited the noirish feel of the game. And in Elly,
accurately rendered effects like cast shadows and powdery clouds of exhaled breath seem to
integrate the characters to their surroundings.
So who are the
characters? Well, players maneuver Jonathan Prye through the game. Hes a disaffected
cleric whos turned to hunting witches in order to rediscover his faith. Yes, he
couldve easily worked for Kenneth Starr or the Bush campaign. And then theres
a small cast of characters: a parson, a magistrate, an accused witch, and the town drunk.
Theres also an Indian mystic, Asagaya, who befriends Prye. The voice acting for all
is very good, especially for the jailed witch and the mystic. Prye sounds like Robert
Goulet. As mentioned above, though, they arent very good looking models. And for
some reasonmust be the designers running jokethe witch is always telling
Prye to slip her something, or give her something, or just, you know, do something
potentially provocative to her. And when she talks, the camera focuses on her amply
rendered bosom. Maybe Im reading into things, but when a game camera cuts off a key
characters head and zeroes in on her bazooms during five minutes of dialog, then I
suspect somethings up.
Okay, so the
settings really beautiful and the characters arent quite so pretty. Hows
the gameplay? It, like the model rendering, is okay. The same control problems that
plagued Nocturne persist in Elly, namely, the clumsy controls (standard
keyboard-mouse combo) become inoperable during heavy action sequences. So save often, and
be prepared to witness Prye getting his entrails sucked out by zombies over and over
again. The zombies raise another specter that haunts gameplay in Elly; its
boring. Players spend a lot of time walking Prye through woods and killing zombies.
Fittingly, the otherworldly camera control makes it easy to get lost in the woods, and the
zombies are undead pansies and easy to incapacitate. The problem is, players will end up
spending most of the game destroying zombies when they could be solving more puzzles or
casting more spells. When they do get to these more challenging moments, the results are
spectacular, graphically as well as audibly. The sound in Elly, by the way, is
eerie and well produced.
All in all, Blair
Witch Volume 3: The Elly Kedward Tale goes the distance in fleshing out the Blair
Witch mythology. Ingenious surprises abound, especially in regard to the Native
American elements that become essential to the Blair mythos. If forced to choose between,
say, Nocturne and Elly, however stick with the Stranger and his minions. The
older game provides much more gaming excitement and novelty than this latest, first
chapter of the Blair Witch saga. If Elly came with a collectible figure
of that accused witch, then maybe we could talk turkey. But until then, consider other
places to cast your black cat bone.