Inspired by the iconic Blair Witch horror series, Blooper Team SA released the Blair Witch video game at the end of August 2019. With the name of such a well-recognized film franchise attached, expectations for this game to be innovative and interesting were set fairly high. Thematically, Blair Witch offers an apt presentation of PTSD as a war veteran and former policemen, but it also has some unique game mechanics. While you can easily recall similar uses in other video games, the Blair Witch mechanics involving the dog Bullet are the most notable and emotionally impacting.
Accompanying the protagonist Ellis, the Belgian Malinois named Bullet provides multiple vital mechanics to Blair Witch. As one of the player’s few tools, Bullet is necessary to survive the game. He can be commanded to seek, come, stay, and stay close; players can also choose to reprimand, pet, or give treats to Bullet. These seven interactions with Bullet specifically impact both Bullet and the player. His realistic noises and accurate portrayal of a normal dog really invest players into Bullet’s wellbeing.
When Bullet wanders too far away for too long, the player’s sanity suffers. However, the player must send Bullet out to seek because he finds pathways and items like polaroids and dog tags that progress the game; keeping Bullet permanently by your side is not possible. This is reminiscent of how various other horror games use light to impact sanity. Similar to how Amnesia: The Dark Descent uses darkness to deplete sanity but cannot explicitly kill the player, Bullet’s distant proximity diminishes your sanity, but it will not directly kill you.
Bullet is also key to fighting off monsters, as he detects nearby enemies with his heightened senses. Bullet whines and growls pointedly in the direction of the monsters as they approach, indicating where the shadowy creatures are. However, Bullet can’t attack anything, so he is essentially just a warning and directive system to combat. As your loyal companion, Bullet’s implementation as an alarm that is explicitly vital to your survival further endears him to players and encourages you to take care of the good boy. Situations that inevitably impact the safety and survival of Bullet hit players harder because they’ve been kept sane and safer thanks to Bullet’s efforts throughout the game.
Although dogs are present and interactable within many video games, most canine companions that are as influential to both the narrative and mechanically. Two examples of similarly useful dogs akin to Bullet are Diamond Dog “DD” from Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain and Riley from Call of Duty: Ghosts. DD and Riley are both capable of sniffing out their respective enemies, similar to how Bullet can detect the monsters of Black Hills forest; arguably, DD and Riley might be considered more significant because they are also capable of actually attacking and killing their respective enemies. Meanwhile, Bullet is all bark and no bite. The limitations of Bullet’s defensive capabilities make him distinctly memorable and adds more tension to the atmosphere. As a former police dog, one would expect Bullet to defend his owner from an attacker, no matter what the threat it. It makes you question how terrifying and dangerous whatever the monsters in the woods are, something powerful enough that Bullet is reduced to vocalizing and keeps him from fully protecting you.
While Bullet isn’t perfect and his AI sometimes acts up, he provides unique mechanics to Blair Witch. His restricted protective actions set him apart from his similar counterparts in other video games. Bullet was an intriguing innovation from dogs in predating games and was interesting to learn how to use and become familiar with.