Blair Witch Volume I: Rustin Parr Review

I had been looking forward to the trilogy of Blair Witch games since I first heard that Gathering of Developers would be publishing them, and I'm not even much of a fan of the original movie. After all, the Nocturne engine, with its dynamic lighting and shadowing effects was designed for exactly these sorts of horror action/adventure titles. Unfortunately, the first game in the series, Blair Witch Volume I: Rustin Parr, turns out to be a bit of a mixed bag -- it is sometimes quite scary, but thanks to repetitive gameplay, it's also quite dull at times.

Set in the 1940's, Rustin Parr manages a tie-in or two to Terminal Reality's earlier game -- you play Doc Holliday, a minor character from Nocturne's Spookhouse, a government agency that investigates supernatural events. Your case sends you to Burkittsville, Maryland, where Rustin Parr ritualistically killed six children in his home in the woods and kept a seventh child alive as a witness to the killings.

While I don't want to give the plot away, Burkittsville was the home of the Blair Witch, so you can bet on at least a few frightening encounters. Sometimes, Rustin Parr will send monsters jumping out of windows to attack you, but other effects are much more subtle: an occasional flash of thunder and lightning or the sounds of leaves rustling as you walk alone in a quiet forest. (But do take the system requirements seriously, as these effects need a lot of processing power.) The plot also generally manages to stay interesting, even if characters are often stereotyped and flatly acted.

Rustin Parr is a short game -- veteran gamers may need as little as 10 hours to complete it -- but it still seems like it has too much filler. Unfortunately, you will spend most of your time exploring the maze-like and visually bland forest outside Burkittsville. And much of this time, you'll take the same paths over again and again, flipping back and forth between the main game screen and your automap while keeping an eye on your compass.

To make matters worse, it's easy to get disoriented, since the camera angles change on you frequently -- north may be up on one screen and right on the next one. Even worse still, the forest starts to play tricks on you. You can still look at the automap you've drawn, but the game won't show your present position on it, so you have to be even more careful not to get lost. These sequences aren't that difficult, but they are tedious, and they keep happening throughout the game. At one point, Doc Holliday even says "I don't have time to waste," when one such sequence begins. I wish the designers had listened to their "own" criticism of the game and wasted a little less of the player's own time.

As an action/adventure game, Rustin Parr does has its share of combat sequences, but fewer than one might expect. The weapons are fairly standard -- just a pistol, rifle, and a few ghost-fighting energy guns -- and the enemies generally tend to be the same throughout the game. To keep things a little more interesting, however, there is one better sequence near the start of the game, and there are a few larger bosses in the forest. Otherwise, most of the combat is optional if you just keep running, which is good, because ammunition is in short supply and aiming isn't always the easiest, even with the so-called "auto-aim" turned on. There are four different control modes -- keyboard, mouse and keyboard, gamepad, or an adventure-like point-and-click -- but it still may take you a while to find a mode and key mappings that suit you.

You can choose from "easy" or "hard" mode for both the combat and the puzzles, but if you want to change the difficulty mid-game, you must resort to cheat codes to do so. With puzzle difficulty set to easy, there are really very few puzzles in the game at all -- mainly ones involving how to defeat various monsters. The hard difficulty primarily adds a few symbol puzzles, which usually must be solved at very particular points by looking at the pictures and auto-notes that Holliday has taken. To solve those puzzles, you have to flip through pages of disorganized notes one at a time, with only the most minimal of notetabs to help you find what you need. Fortunately, there are still a few stronger challenges elsewhere in the hard-puzzle game, but not enough that I'd recommend the game to the pure adventure fan.

If you're looking to be scared, Rustin Parr is worth playing in spite of these flaws. It could have been a much better game if the designers had cut back on the repetitive forest sequences and perhaps tried to improve the variety of challenges in the hard-puzzle mode. Nevertheless, if you ignore these problems and turn the lights down, you're still left with a reasonably good horror game. At the low retail price in the United States of just $20, Rustin Parr should give you your money's worth.

-- Jason Strautman