First off, I need to say upfront that this game is the first of a trilogy set in the Blair Witch universe, but Volume I is the only one I’ve been able to find and play. It’s generally considered the best iteration of this series, so I’m trusting it’s a pretty good representation of how well it handles the Blair Witchery we’re about to delve into here.
Blair Witch Volume I: Rustin Parr came out in 2000, a year after the release of the first movie, from the Terminal Reality studio. The studio had just had some major success with its previous release Nocturne, and Rustin Parr represents a partial crossover between the two stories, based on the Nocturne engine, which strongly suggests to me that this was more a retooled Nocturne sequel than something dedicated to the Blair Witch story specifically. The main character, Doc Holiday, comes right out of the Nocturne game to lead this story, as an investigator in 1940s Indiana trying to get to the bottom of the claims of a child-killer, Rustin Parr, about supernatural involvement in his crimes.
This might sound familiar to you, as Rustin Parr’s actions made up a big part of the original lore of The Blair Witch Project. I think this was a really smart way to draw the lore of the series into the game – it’s safer than striking out with your own new ideas, but also feels as though it adds real depth to the original movie. Using the device of an investigator uncovering more and more of the story is a fresh and more focused approach to the movies’ range of “staggering around the woods” (very good) to “staggering around the woods” (very bad). I find Rustin Parr’s story genuinely interesting, blurring the lines between the real and the imagined in much the same way the original film does, and it really deepens the significance of his influence on the town’s history.
The game is mostly set in Burkittsville, and I have to admit I really loved the way this looked. It’s got a gloomy, sombre feel to it with the woods looming in the background which really serves the story. The gameplay? Well, yeah, it’s…there, I guess. It doesn’t feel like the challenging mystery-solving game I wanted it to be, though with the speed at which it was produced along with two sequels, maybe that’s not really a surprise. I do think the meta-aspect of the series is covered by the interactive nature of the game, though, even if it could do more to involve the player directly beyond just pointing Doc in the right direction.
But what about the woods? It’s hard to say. Look, in some ways, I do genuinely think the large portion of the game set in the woods is pretty well-done, because it does capture the tedium and frustration of being wandering lost around a forest. But, when I watch a movie about that, I know the stakes are high for the characters – here, I’m just distinctly aware that the worst that will happen is me getting more and more vaguely annoyed leading up to a slightly effective jump scare. It’s time-consuming and often irritating, which matches the tone of what I enjoy in the films about this place, but it’s very hard to care about it in game form.
Rustin Parr is a game that still holds up reasonably well, provided you’re there for the mystery and not the awful combat mechanics. It looks great, to my eyes, and it does do well in coaxing out some more nuance from a tantalizing tidbit of the first movie. It’s way ahead of the second movie in terms of quality, but still, feels like just a fragment of what a great Blair Witch game would have been. But hey, maybe, a decade and a half later, someone might get it right.
By Lou MacGregor
(header image via MyAbandonware)