Release Date: November 200o
On the back of the box of Blair Witch Volume 1, there is a quote from the Just Adventure preview that states, "Don't play this game in the dark, because when you are done you will be too scared to get up and turn on the lights." Well, unfortunately, the full version of the game was too disjointed, for me, to sustain the horror that was evident in the small demo I had played. It would be great, though, if Gathering of Developers could remove that quote from Volume 1 and paste it all over the front of Volume 2, for this time they done scared me so bad that my hair has turned white!
Soon after the opening cinematic of Blair Witch Volume 2, the hero of our story is recovering on a quilt-laden bed as his hostess, Bess Weaver, pleads with him to search in the forest for her lost granddaughter. The moment she uttered, "Them woods out there is a deadly maze," my heart sank to the floor. I won't go into another of my diatribes concerning mazes in adventure games (but if you do happen to enjoy my ravings, then you might want to read my review of Blair Witch Volume 1: Rustin Parr), but let me state for the record--boy, were my first impressions of this game wrong! For Blair Witch Volume 2 is one of the better-written and thematically structured games ever released for the computer. It is as good and as self-contained as any episode of Rod Serling's Twilight Zone ever was.
Set soon after the Civil War, The Legend of Coffin Rock is the middle game of Gathering of Developer's revolutionary Blair Witch trilogy. A Yankee lieutenant has been stricken with amnesia and is found wandering the woods of Burkettesville by a young girl named Robin Weaver. Robin takes the soldier to the home she shares with her grandmother to recuperate. Bess Weaver, the grandmother, christens the soldier "Lazarus" to commemorate his "rebirth" and offers him a place to stay and heal. But after an evening of strange occurrences, Lazarus awakens to find that Robin has vanished into the forest of the Black Hills. The worried grandmother begs for the soldier's help, as she has had a premonition that only he and he alone can bring Robin back safely. Is he being knowingly sacrificed to the Blair Witch? For things are not always as they seem in Burkettesville, as Lazarus is soon to discover.
The majority of computer games find it difficult to tell one story coherently. Blair Witch 2 manages to simultaneously weave two stories, one from the past and one from the present, that eventually mesh into a satisfying and eerie conclusion. For as Lazarus wends his way through the story, and closer to the black heart of the forest, he experiences blackouts that allow him to mentally relive a very special mission during the Civil War. As the story progresses, we gradually piece together a tale of dread. Again, it is difficult to say too much for fear of giving away the surprises in the story. If you have played the first game, then you will recognize many familiar names and events that were foreshadowed, but it is not necessary to have played the first installment. It will be interesting after the third installment to discover why Gathering of Developers decided to release the trilogy in reverse chronological order. This decision would seem to preclude any surprises, but I have faith in G.O.D.
The woods are different, almost more benign. Even though both games use the same Nocturne engine, the forest is less spooky this time. There are patches of green peeking through the underbrush. It is as if the forest still has some control and has not yet been dominated by the Blair Witch. Yes, these are the same forest paths that were a maze in the first Blair Witch, but this time they are used as an integral part of the story and not as a device to lengthen the game. Nor is a map necessary for this installment, as the forest is broken into smaller, easier-to-navigate chunks. Naturally, much of the story takes place in the woods since this is a time when small towns were sparse and people live off the land.
Another huge improvement this time around is that there are no difficulty settings for the game. Thus, you don't wonder if you missed any puzzles or cut-scenes by playing on an easier level. Instead, the game seems to have a built-in setting that changes according to your actions. If you know there is a time when you you should, for example, chase Robin back into the woods, then the game will allow you to do so. But if you are not quite sure what to do, then multiple dialogues with the nearest character will steer you along in a way similar to a Universal Hint System file. Even the woods themselves are helpful; often they will not allow you to leave unless a particular task has been accomplished.
Initially, the auto-aiming is a drawback. I again played using my gamepad (there are options to use a gamepad or keyboard/mouse) and had difficulty accomplishing any quick, accurate shots, which of course led to my saving before every confrontation. But as the game progresses, Lazarus develops an increased proficiency with the gun.
Lip-synching to the voices are but a hopeful wish, but the excellent voice acting overshadows this shortcoming (there is nothing like the moaning voices of dead children to make me squirm in my seat). Twana sticks substitute as medi-kits, but there never seemed to be enough to keep me healthy, and I often had to replay entire scenes just to figure out ways to conserve my twana sticks. While this is a distraction from the flow of the game, especially one like Blair Witch that demands your emotional involvement, it also heightened the suspense, as I often feared I would not make it through a scene without perishing.
Bullets and weaponry are in abundant supply. Weapons are the standard issue Civil War issue--saber and revolver--and the developers have attempted to realistically recreate not only the weapons, but also the uniforms and atmosphere of the post-Civil War era (being a Southerner by birth, it broke my heart every time I had to fire upon the boys in blue).
The traditional adventure aspects of the game are few--many of the expository scenes occur during discussions or cut-scenes--but there are enough to keep the average adventurer smiling. The action sequences are nowhere near as hardcore they were in the first Blair Witch. In fact, where the first game was marred by a jagged narrative that saw an adventure sequence and then a pure action sequence and then a romp in the woods, the second Blair Witch flows much more smoothly, and when there is an action sequence, it feels more like a part of the story rather than an intrusion.
The Legend of Coffin Rock is highly recommended for any adventure player who enjoys plot-driven stories punctuated by combat and fighting that is a natural part of the story line. As was the first installment, it is short in length, but it far outshines the first volume in the series and encourages hope for the conclusion of the trilogy.
Final Grade: A-
If you liked Blair Witch Volume 2:
Read: Urban Myths & Legends
Watch: Blair Witch 2
Play: Blair Witch Volume 1
PII 233 or higher
64 MB RAM
Mouse/keyboard or gamepad