One of the biggest hit movies of last year was The Blair Witch Project, a spooky ultra-low budget horror movie that followed a group of young people running around in a wood with camcorders screaming their heads off.
Now the Blair Witch is coming to a PC near you, with a whole trilogy of games due for release from the Gathering Of Developers later this year based on the movie, powered by the graphics engine from last year's stunning horror action game Nocturne.
Three Of A Kind
The secret of the Blair Witch trilogy is "episodic gaming". Instead of having one big game that takes two years to develop, you instead will get a trilogy of shorter games at a budget price, each delving into one of the stories from the now extensive Blair Witch mythology.
Three different developers are working on the games, sharing their resources and content to make sure that all three games are released on schedule in September, October and November of this year. If everything goes to plan you should be able to pick up all three episodes in consecutive months for the princely sum of just $20 a piece.
Don't be fooled though - despite the budget pricing and short development cycle, the games are still looking incredible. The Nocturne engine looks just as good today as it did six months ago, and the settings are suitably spooky and atmospheric, with plenty of raging storms, Blair Witch imagery, and dark and sinister woodlands.
All three games are being developed with help from the company behind the original movie, featuring stories that intertwine not only with the other games, but also fit in with the existing Blair Witch legends as seen in the movies. Each game should provide you with a respectable 20 hours or more of action, which for the price of a "Blair Witch Project" DVD certainly isn't bad value...
The first game will be developed by Terminal Reality, the company behind Nocturne, and its plot is set in 1941, following the story of Rustin Parr. Doc Holliday from Nocturne is the star of this episode, arriving in the town of Burkittsville on the day that its inhabitants hang Rustin Parr for the abduction and murder of seven children.
It soon becomes apparent that all is not well, as the good Doctor is woken by a strange knocking sound in the middle of the night to find a ghost walking through her hotel room. Grabbing her best spook hunting gear, Doc Holliday follows the ghost to the sheriff's office, where she discovers that the local law enforcement officers aren't quite feeling themselves...
Although there is some good old fashioned zombie blasting action, this first game is more based around exploration and adventure than pure action. As you uncover clues the game will record your discoveries in a notebook, which will also feature a list of tasks that you still need to complete to make sure you never lose track of what you are doing.
Adding to the Blair Witch feel of the game, you will also conduct interviews with the townsfolk, questioning them about the strange goings-on in the town, and you will be able to review this evidence later in the game.
The second episode is being designed by Human Head, who are also working on the Unreal-engined Viking action game Rune at the moment. Their Blair Witch game is set in 1886, and based on the legend of Coffin Rock.
After a girl gets lost in the woods near Burkittsville, the people fear for the worst and search parties are organised to find him. The girl returns, but one of the search parties doesn't, and after a second search of the woods the five missing men are found disembowelled, mutilated, and tied together by their hands and feet.
You play a soldier with amnesia known only as "Lazarus", and throughout the game you will suffer from terrifying flashbacks as your past is slowly revealed to you. Meanwhile you are also investigating the secret of the woods around Burkittsville, with all manner of bizarre goings on and strange stick creatures wandering around the haunted woodlands.
The result is a game that is more based around action interspersed with cinematics to push the story forwards, and judging from the little we have seen so far it should be a suitably scary experience.
The third and final episode is the furthest from completion at the moment, and the only game that wasn't on show during the Gathering Of Developers' recent tour of Europe.
What we do know is that it will be developed by Ritual, and based around the story of Elly Kedward, the Blair Witch herself. Accused of witchcraft by the townsfolk of Blair in 1785, she was banished and apparently cursed the town. Within a year Elly's enemies had all vanished, along with several of the town's children, and the survivors fled the town in terror.
As Ritual are currently busy putting the finishing touches to their Quake 3 engined sci-fi shooter FAKK2, only a skeleton crew is working on the third episode at the moment. Their third episode will be a more action-oriented affair, and hopefully we should know more about it soon...
Episodic gaming is one of the big industry buzz-words at the moment, and with the Blair Witch Project trilogy GOD looks set to deliver - three brand new games released within weeks of each other at a budget price, each of them complementing the plot and gameplay of the others without requiring you to play all three.
With three different and highly experienced developers working on the games, and the stunning Nocturne engine and the much-hyped Blair Witch Project name behind them, it's hard to see how they can fail. As long as there are no extreme close-ups of the inside of Heather Donahue's nose, the Blair Witch games should be well worth a look.
Stay tuned for more information on the trilogy as it nears release later in the year!