A way to go
The "Rustin Parr" part of the game's title refers to the man at the centre of the concern, whose background you'll no doubt recall if you've seen the attrocious (and thankfully unattached) film. Rustin Parr was a reclusive fellow living away in the hills, and after a year of voices in his head and visions of an old lady he became powerless to resist the impulsions planted in his head. Unable to stop himself, he drove into town and found the nearest child he could, took him back to his dusty mansion in the hills and strapped him down in the basement. He collected many more children, and violently tortured and slaughtered them all, except one, whom he forced to watch. When all this was done, he freed the boy and strolled into town, saying that he was "finished". The voices suddenly went away. If you base your decision to play Rustin Parr on the recent film then you've made a mistake. The game in itself is a fantastic adaptation of the Blair Witch mythos and has nothing to do with a few teenagers in the woods with a wobbly camera. As Doc Holliday, you have to head into backwater Burkittsville on the edge of the woods to investigate for the SpookHouse, and inevitably your adventure takes you as close to the Blair Witch as anyone can humanly get. BW is very cinematic, right from the off. For those of you who didn't play Nocturne (and this is a standalone game so it's not required), it's played from a third person perspective and as you navigate around the world the camera moves to various fixed positions for ease of motion. You run or walk around, pick stuff up, raise and lower your weapons to face enemies and chat to non-player characters. Cutscenes all take place in-game, but that's not a concern since graphically the game is very pleasant. There are scant few areas where I felt playing the game became difficult due to the camera either, but some people dislike this style of play. The game can be controlled by various methods, through combinations of the keyboard, mouse and gamepad, but I had a few problems with some of them, particularly the point-and-click mode, which flat out didn't work properly. Clicking on a switch on the wall (no matter how I tried it) didn't work..
The pace is quite slow at times, but the atmosphere is painted thickly (rather unlike the film, which is frankly pants). You start out with the usual mission briefing at Spookhouse headquarters before heading off to Berkittsville. Unlike other games where you'd simply head off to the woods and kill some stuff, Blair Witch invites you to investigate the town and its occupants. You book into the local hotel and make a report on your early findings, before heading off to the diner and meeting some of the locals. These story-building areas are very descriptive, helping to educate you on the legend's history. You also meet vital characters who clue you up on the happenings, and treat you sympathetically thanks to your cover story - that you're a mother whose daughter has been abducted - perhaps also by Rustin Parr. Your investigatory partner The Stranger is surprisingly reluctant and displeased by the notion of investigating the Blair Witch, the culpability for which you put down to his inability to "shoot anything" on a mission such as this. Of course, with The Stranger absent, you discover a lot more than he did and the mysterious legend slowly unravels around you.. The in-game antics are sumptuously detailed and interspersed with cutscenes to advance the plot, as well as some genuinely startling moments of tense excitement. The first spectral entity I ran across was quite a shock, and surprisingly believable, thanks to the incredible capabilities of the Nocturne engine, which still harbours effects and visuals most other game designers are still struggling to implement. With full scene anti-aliasing, the real-time backgrounds and game world is utterly breathtaking.. I honestly thought it was a pre-rendered world until I discovered that my torch was casting real-time shadows!
Alone in the Dark
Although Nocturne and Rustin Parr share an engine in common, Parr got the better hand with many subtle improvements and bug fixes. The much hyped flowing capes of the original return, but this time they seem to avoid clipping into trees and the like so often. Another area which has received much needed attention is facial animation, which was absent from Nocturne. Doc Holliday, Stranger and his pals all have lip-synced mouths, which while far from perfect are definitely plausible and frequently spot on. One of my biggest problems with Nocturne was its system requirements, which placed the game frankly rather ahead of its time. Average systems of around 400Mhz with a decent graphics card and 128Mb RAM should do fine, but anything below will be quite choppy. On my Thunderbird gaming rig things went swimmingly, with only a couple of frames dropped throughout the entire game. If anything Rustin Parr performs a little better than Nocturne did on an equivocal system, although I'd put that down to improved camera angles. A lot of the time in Nocturne the player was forced right up against the camera, making it very difficult to engage the enemy and keeping the polycount very high. While there were still a few awkward positions in Parr, on the whole thing were vastly improved, and I certainly never found myself racing back to a comfortable camera position as I had done in Nocturne.. The angles are much less exasperating, and the camera tends to change perspectives with higher frequency, meaning you never end up charging blindly into a horde of zombies.
Out on your own
Sadly, there is one big crux as far as Rustin Parr goes, and that's longevity. Like a film or book with a twist in the tail and an engrossing story-line, you can happily read it again and the odd bit here or there will make more sense, but you'll never get quite the same level of enjoyment out of it as you did before. Add to this the fact that Rustin Parr is over in what seems like an instant and you have cause for some alarm. Choosing Doc Holliday as a main character was a very smart move on the part of TRI, I'd say. Not because of the female angle - she's no Lara Croft lads - but primarily because she provides such an interesting contrast to The Stranger. His no holds barred gorefest missions in Nocturne were intense and very gripping, but the woman's touch just wasn't there with some of his female counterparts, like Svetlana the half-Vampire. For example, unlike Stranger who charged into everything with his guns drawn, Holliday backs off, plots her course with a compass and hand-drawn map and carefully studies what she sees. Exploring the woods in Blair Witch is much easier than it was in Germany in the original game, and as such you get hit by the full, eery impact of the experience rather than a bunch of marauding werewolves coming out of an area you thought you'd been over. Considering some of the new visual effects (like a layer of fallen leaves building up on certain areas as you stroll through them), the map is an absolute godsend. Without it the passage through the Blair Witch woods would be frought with difficulty and more frustrating than adrenaline-pumping.
Blair Witch : Rustin Parr is a fun game, and one that will appeal to anyone who enjoys survival horror. I'm not saying it's for everyone. Opinions on Nocturne were highly polarized and there's no evidence to suggest Rustin Parr will be any different, but even though it's over and done with in a flash, it's still definitely worth checking out if you fancy a decent romp, and a darn sight better than those questionable Resident Evil PC conversions to boot! Addendum - Since this review we've spoken to Terminal Reality and discovered that the game is being given an MSRP of $19.99 in the US, and presumably Ł19.99 over here. While we still feel that the game was a little short, this lower price makes it a much more viable option, and as such we ammend the scoreline up from 8/10 to 9/10 to reflect this.