In Blair Witch Volume II: Coffin Rock, players take the role of a Union soldier in 1886 who awakens on the legendary Coffin Rock, wounded and bandaged, with no idea as to how he got there. Armed with sword and pistol, the soldier begins to make his way through the supernatural woods, hoping to find some answers. The game runs on a version of the 3D Nocturne engine, enhanced to provide better character action and control.
There's a fine line between a scary horror film and a corny horror flick. That same line exists in the gaming industry as well. While Gathering of Developers' Blair Witch Volume I: Rustin Parr was a spooky romp through Burkittsville in search for the truth behind the abduction and brutal murders of seven local children in the year 1941, Blair Witch Volume II: The Legend of Coffin Rock is just the opposite. It's not very scary and it's not much of an adventure. It's nothing more than a predictable and formulaic action title that does little to continue the mystique and myths of the Blair Witch.
Blair Witch 2 recounts the incident at Coffin Rock, one of the legends described in the original film, The Blair Witch Project. Coffin Rock is a small outcropping of stones overlooking a tranquil creek in the woods outside of Burkittsville, Maryland. The tale describes five men who were sent out to the woods to find a lost little girl. Their bodies were later found bound to one another in a circle about the rock with strange markings carved on their faces and their entrails scattered in some cruel ritual.
This supernatural tale is once again set in the town of Burkittsville, Maryland, this time in the year 1886, during the Civil War era just before the legend of Coffin Rock unfolds. You play the role of Lazarus, a soldier suffering from amnesia who is found in the woods by a young girl named Robin Weaver. The young girl and her grandmother take you into their home to tend to your injuries. When young Robin disappears into the woods one day, a search party is formed to help find her. Robin's grandmother doesn't seem to think the search party is going to survive the unearthly force that resides in the woods, as she proclaims that you are the only person who can find the little girl. Taking into consideration the woman's good deed towards you, you agree to try your best to find young Robin as you venture off into the haunted woods to unravel the mystery surrounding the girl's disappearance.
Each scene in Blair Witch 2 is broken down into two elements, the past and the present. Just about every area you visit triggers a flashback to the year 1863, as you gradually recall your past as a soldier in the Civil War, sent out to capture rebels who have been stealing food and uprooting train tracks. These flashbacks essentially make you visit each location twice. Despite such sequences, the story rarely ever gets confusing, mostly because it's not a very in-depth tale to begin with. Each scenario unlocks a little bit more of the mystery surrounding both the woods and your amnesia, but the payoff at the end of it all is unsatisfying. The game progresses in a series of cut-scenes and moments of action or combat. At the beginning of the game, there's a lot of dialogue to wade through and you'll find numerous scripted sequences throughout the game as well. The biggest problem with the game is the fact that not only is the dialogue scripted, so is the action. You won't be allowed to leave a scene without having picked up every useful object in the area, just as you can't skip any dialogue and progress to the next location. The entire game seems to flow the way it wants too, with little too no input by the gamer. It feels like you're simply triggering the next scene in the story, rather than dictating the tale. In other words, there's absolutely no freedom in Blair Witch 2.
Whereas the first Blair Witch title focused more on storytelling with only a select number of action sequences thrown in, Blair Witch 2 is much more action-oriented. Besides taking away from the story in general, the excessive and often forced action sequences also tend to expose the flaws of the Nocturne engine. Those of you who experienced either Nocturne or Blair Witch Volume I are undoubtedly familiar with the limits of this visually stunning engine. For starters, the camera angles are absolutely atrocious. The game is constantly changing the view to create a movie-like experience, but it doesn't work particularly well in third-person games, especially when the controls are more than a chore to get used too. The mouse is used for turning and aiming while the keyboard is used for actual movement. Combine the two together and it's virtually impossible to react to an enemy behind you with any kind of precision or success. It's frustrating to say the least. Blair Witch 2 also introduces a number of new enemies to the fray, each unique to either Lazarus' flashback sequences or the present year. Soldiers, guard dogs, twanas and ghosts are just some of the baddies you'll come across throughout the game, but I can't quite figure out how a ghost can be killed with a gun.
Despite the use of the Nocturne engine, Blair Witch 2 is almost impossible to immerse yourself within. The visuals are definitely breathtaking, particularly the environments, although the character animations and textures aren't consistent throughout the game, and the shadow effects are incredible. Graphically, there are very few complaints but the sound doesn't follow suit. In Blair Witch Volume I, the audio was spectacular and helped create an eerie environment with the use of sound effects, music and voice acting. In Blair Witch Volume II, the voice acting has gone downhill and the sound effects are abysmal at times. There's no consistency and the end result is a game that just isn't spooky, particularly when you know something is going to jump out at you, which is the case here in Blair Witch Volume II.
Blair Witch Volume I succeeded because it told a spooky, compelling tale and blended in moments of action and horror. It was a genuine gaming experience that sparkled visually and aurally. Blair Witch Volume II is just the opposite. The story unfolds in a predictable and formulaic way, the action scenes are excessive, and the constant use of flashbacks all contribute to a game that is uninteresting on many levels. Coming off what I thought was an excellent start to the Blair Witch series, in Rustin Parr, Legend of Coffin Rock is scary for all the wrong reasons. The third and final volume of the Blair Witch trilogy, entitled Blair Witch Volume 3: The Elly Kedward Tale, is due out later this month, let's hope the final volume can help erase this disappointment and end the series with a bang.
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