Version tested: PC
Having now played every game in the esteemed Blair Witch series, I can quite confidently state that only Terminal Reality really has a clue how to drive the Nocturne engine and its development tools, and I can also proclaim that like so many ill-thought-out trilogies, Blair Witch ends on a farce. The first thing I should do as a fan of the Nocturne engine is distance this game as far as possible from either Nocturne itself or Rustin Parr, TRI's other title, which for me marked the high point of the series, comparable to such trilogic openers as Die Hard. I would compare it to The Legend of Coffin Rock, which lacked flair, but even that doesn't really sinkt his low. The third Blair Witch title, entitled "The Elly Kedward Tale", pretty much abandons any real relevance to the facts and figures movie fans will care about, and casts you as Jonathan Prye, a witch-hunter from the 18th Century, who has gone and lost his faith in the Lord above. In order to overcome this droopy disposition, he travels to Blair, only to discover that it has been abandoned, with only a priest, constable and prisoners remaining, including a charismatic witch. It pretty soon becomes your job to investigate what became of Elly Kedward, who was banished from the town for witchcraft and who, rumour has it, is responsible for the sudden disappearance of the town's children. Of course, this is the least of the town's worries. Cue buckets of atmosphere. Now where are those dang buckets?
The plot is fairly standard "spooky" guff, and you no longer feel as though your actions are really helping to shape the story, more that you're following a trail of breadcrumbs. Ritual aren't really noted for their success with evolving storylines, but nonetheless the material pretty much sells itself; I'd expected something better. Random encounters make up the bulk of the game's action, and there is also the odd boss or two, (complete with console-style health bars) whom when dispatched offer some vital clue or turning point in the story. Pretty old hat now. The "random" encounters are bit too faked as well, with zombies appearing willy nilly and lumbering toward you, until they get stuck on some fairly inconspicuous bit of scenery, of course. Controlling Prye from a third person perspective, these vicious encounters are as simple as could be, with some pretty intuitive (and of course fully mappable) keyboard functions to keep you in check. You can use the mouse in conjunction with the keyboard and such as well. I never felt particularly restrained by the control system, but I'll admit that there were definitely times when I felt it could have been done a bit better. Anyone who has played Rune or a similar third person action game will agree with me when I say that this sort of control system can be done more or less flawlessly these days. "The Elly Kedward Tale" isn't as good an example as might have been expected.
The Nocturne engine itself is also guilty of frustrating me ever so slightly. The camera misbehaves quite a bit, with its claustrophobic close-ups and the way it remains still irrespective of your movement. Seeing off your enemies would be quite easy if they had just backed the camera off a bit further. As it is sometimes the display is a bit close, which can be maddening. I suppose one of the other reasons one might take issue with the Nocturne technology is that unlike the other games, the action is vaguely fast-paced, with lots of item retrieval, weapon pick-ups, spells, quests and random encounters. This style, fairly typical of Ritual's games, doesn't necessarily lend itself all that well to Nocturne's plodding engine. If you run around a lot all the camera switching can make things quite confusing. I grew tired quite quickly of pacing around the woods looking for a rumble, even though I did have the likes of a blunderbuss at my fingertips. The process of dealing with zombie after skeleton after zombie after skeleton gradually became more and more laborious until it outweighed my desire to find out what happened next. Quite devastating for a plot-driven game, eh?
Truth be told though, we can't blame Ritual's inability to produce vaguely playable games alone for Elly Kedward's failings, a lot of it comes down to bugs in the Nocturne code as well. Of course, as if the presence of bugs wasn't maddening in itself, this is fairly fundamental stuff. For instance, the "use" interface seems to randomly break. No I don't know why. But if you have to unlock a door or hit a switch, sometimes you can, sometimes you can't. The workaround seems to be to switch to the point-and-click control system briefly and use that. Another elementary problem is dead-ends. Dead-ends? That's right, you can actually do things in Elly Kedward that require you to quit and reload the game to get out of. You can lock yourself into rooms that have no exits. You can get stuck in the scenery from time to time, oh, and another dead-end is the way the game sometimes crashes when you defeat certain bosses. Not a dead-end in the classic sense, but one I have yet to find a workaround for. As for replay value? Forget it, once you've hacked to death a few zombies there isn't much to tempt you back. There aren't any forks in the plot, the execution is frustrating (rather like another of Ritual's games, Sin, but lets not linger on that), and what with the absence of multiplayer, this is one that will warm the shelf more than the inner workings of your computer.
If you have played through the first two Blair Witch titles and desperately want another dosage, this just about sells itself. In fact, if you fall into that category I doubt you've read this review. However just about everyone else needn't apply - Elly Kedward is a dreary, badly made game which offers no real closure to the series and bears no relevance to either Blair Witch film. A waste of your pennies, despite the reasonable price tag.
3 / 10