To be honest, I’m surprised The Witness is legal. This game is abusive, addicting, misleading, and unapologetic during the entire process. From the moment you start playing, it’s clear that the game’s creator, Jonathan Blow, isn’t out to hold your hand. You want his respect? You want to finish his game? You have to earn it.
At its core, The Witness is a puzzle game for the PS4 that’s been in development since before the console was even announced. Now that it’s here, the reviews are all really high. What’s all the hype about? Well, I’ve sunk some serious time into the game and I think I’m ready to answer that question, assuming my brain doesn’t come oozing out of my ear from all the puzzles.
A Story that Stays in the Shadows
You don’t need to go very far on this website to see that I’m a gamer who values a good story. As a writer, games are the ultimate medium for telling stories in my opinion. Sure, I still enjoy a good book, but ultimately a great game with an amazing story will win me over every time.
That being said, The Witness isn’t very forthcoming with the details. This is one of those games where part of the appeal is the mystery and intrigue so I’m not going to give any details on the story here, but I will say that it isn’t very apparent. If you’re looking for constant dialogue and cutscenes, you’re going to be disappointed.
That being said, if you don’t mind your story being handed out in very small doses, there is a lot of mystery to dig into here. The Witness doesn’t even have an opening cutscene. You start the game and within the span of a minute, you’re outside in a colorful and seemingly unpopulated island with a variety of different areas mashed into one cohesive place.
The detail-oriented eye will find all kinds of interesting clues and hints scattered between the game’s puzzles. For the most part, the island is open to you as well, which offers this sense of wonder and discovery that The Witness absolutely nails.
I will say that you should be on the lookout for small tape recorder looking devices that offer some voices to fill the silence. These devices contain quotes from real people like Albert Einstein for example. Why are they here? What do these puzzles do? What is this place? Am I the Witness? You’ll have a lot of questions, and the answers won’t be apparent. Some of them might not be there at all.
Much like the puzzles in the game, The Witness’ story doesn’t come to you. You have to go find it.
Puzzles That Make you Feel Smart and Stupid in Equal Measure
There’s no shortage of positive reviews out there for this game. That being said, there are also people who people who claim that it’s nothing more than a series of line puzzles wrapped in a pretty world. To an extent, both parties are right. The puzzles in The Witness, at their core, involve you drawing a line from one point to another.
In fact, one of the first puzzles you do will have you draw a line from one end of a straight line to another. Once you get out of the first area and into the main island, though, all bets are off. At this point, the puzzles go far beyond drawing lines from point A to point B.
The difficulty flies all over the place in the game, but there’s something to be said about how the game handles tutorials. In short, there aren’t any, at least not in the traditional sense. To use another early example, at one point you’ll find a series of panels in a horizontal line. The first puzzle had you draw a line between a black and a white square before reaching the end of the maze.
The next puzzle gives you something a little more complex, with multiple squares of black and white colors. That first puzzle taught you that when you see these colored squares, you need to separate them from one another, so that’s what you do. The next puzzle expands on this, and it goes on until you finish the set and it clicks in your mind: “HOLY S%$& I JUST LEARNED SOMETHING?!”
It takes an incredible level of game design to teach an entire set of rules without saying a single word. You’ll encounter puzzles in The Witness that have colors, shapes, and other symbols and if you’ve found the right teaching puzzles, you’ll know how to solve them.
If you don’t know what to do, you can leave and come back at your leisure. There are over 600 puzzles in the game, so if one stumps you, there’s another close by. Now, these types of puzzles are awesome, but the game has another kind that involves using your perspective to solve the riddle.
These puzzles can be really cool, but they can also be extremely frustrating. On the one hand, they allow you to look at the environment around the puzzle panel and find an answer based on what you see hidden in the world around you. That’s an awesome feeling! What isn’t so awesome, is when you have no idea how what you see is supposed to click with what’s in front of you.
With the symbols and colors, there’s a structure and a set of rules. By contrast, these perspective puzzles are more abstract and more frustrating as a result. At the end of the day, The Witness is a puzzle game. Perhaps one of the most intricate and well designed puzzle games ever made.
The feeling you get when it all comes together is just plain addicting. The game will make you feel like an idiot and refuse to answer when you scream at the screen, but then you’ll figure it out and it will give you a pat on the back. It refuses to help, but only because it wants you to find the answers yourself.
For those who see the $40 price tag and scoff, let me remind you that this game will easily eat up to fifty hours of your life, or more, before you’re finished. Take that excuse out of here.
This comes in a day and age where a lot of games will give you an easy way out if it’s too hard. Heck, some Mario games these days will play for you if you’re having trouble. In a world full of handholding, The Witness is the “Dark Souls” of puzzle games.
Silent, Moving Art
The graphics in The Witness are gorgeous. No, they’re not photorealistic. Instead, the game is presented to you in an amazing art style where everything has a color that pops right off the screen. Jonathan Blow also made the decision to not include music in the game, which you would think is a bad idea, but it actually lends to the atmosphere.
Also, who wants to listen to the same grinding music while trying to concentrate on a puzzle? Not me. I’ve seen people say that this game is just a bunch of line puzzles in a world that doesn’t matter. Well, we’ve already seen that they are so much more than line puzzles. Beyond the obvious perspective puzzles, everything in The Witness affects the world in some way.
Every puzzle matters and each puzzle is there for a purpose. Whether it’s extending a bridge, opening, a door, or powering something up, these puzzles and this world are bonded. If you had one without the other, this game wouldn’t be anywhere near as good as it is.
When it comes down it, The Witness is a one-of-a-kind puzzle game. Not only does it teach you all kinds of new critical thinking skills without saying a word, but it gives you brain a workout like no other game can in a world that’s incredibly pleasing on the eyes. If you’re in the mood for unique and intricately designed puzzles, look no further.
Final Verdict: 9.0/10
Having Trouble with The Witness? Check out These Spoiler-Free Tips!
If you’ve played a bit of the Witness, or you’re worried about the puzzles destroying your psyche, we’ve prepared a list of some quick tips here to help you tackle some of the game’s harder challenges:
- Try jotting down puzzles and clues to help you visualize the answers. Keep a notebook nearby for this purpose!
- Taking a photo of a puzzle or the perspective you need can help you bridge the puzzle and the answer together. If you have a photographic memory, disregard this.
- You can use the D-pad or the analog stick to draw your lines :)
- Be ready for the rules to change. Just because the game taught you something, doesn’t mean you won’t find a variation of that rule later on.
- Work backwards if a puzzle has you stumped. Sometimes the switch can help you bridge the gaps
- Unsure what’s next? Look for any wires on the ground near the puzzle panels. These will often lead to the next puzzle in any given area.
- Stop and take in the sights. Not only are they pretty, but you’ll often see hidden clues and answers in the ultra-detailed environments. Don’t forget to keep an eye out for the little tape recorders!
- If you click the “load a save game” option in the pause screen, you can see how many puzzles you’ve solved as of your last autosave.
- Don’t be afraid to explore the entire island. You’ll find all kinds of hidden puzzles in your travels.
- If you spot a symbol or a setup you don’t recognize, don’t worry! You probably haven’t found the tutorial puzzles for that rule yet.
- The end of the game will kick you back to the beginning with 0 puzzles solved. Don’t worry, you can always load one of the many autosaves if you want to go back and finish any you missed.
- Don’t be afraid to start over on a second playthrough. You’ll have a fresh set of eyes to find and solve new puzzles! Just don’t forget to snap photos of the really devious ones you already solved in the last playthrough.
Hopefully these tips will help you get through some of the tougher challenges. If you are stumped, resist the urge to use a walkthrough! Let the answer come to you, even if you feel like punching Jonathan Blow in the face, just take a step back. The sense of accomplishment this game provides is just phenomenal, so don’t rob yourself of that.
Are you playing the Witness? What do you think of the game? Tell us your thoughts in the comments!
Article by - Bradley Ramsey
Insert date - 1/30/16