Can I get a witness?
I enjoy a good puzzle game from time to time. Flexing my brain muscles is usually rewarding and fun in its own right, and finding a game that does this well is sometimes a bit of a challenge. After years in development, Jonathan Blow has finally released his highly anticipated game, The Witness – a game that has been touted as a 30 hour puzzle game. Now, at first I didn’t know what to think, is it really that long? Do I want to play a puzzle game for that many hours? Astoundingly, after putting some time into it, I can safely say absolutely.
The Witness has a very simple concept – find puzzles and complete them. The puzzles themselves are simple in concept. Start at a circular area, and draw a line to the end of a grid. The execution could not be more simple. Certain puzzles utilize unexplained rules that players will have to figure out via trial and error and through the power of their own observation.
Platforms: PS4, PC
Price I’d pay: $39.99
Myst + Lyne
The game takes place on a mysterious island. There is no explanation, no tutorial, nothing to tell players where to go or what to do. Essentially, everything is up to the player on what they want to see and do. Walking around the island via a first person perspective, finding panels with puzzles on them, and solving them is the entire point of the game. Exploration is key to not only finding the puzzles, but also solving them.
Everything starts out simple enough, finding panels that activate more panels when solved, following power cables that light up when a panel is solved, etc. Soon enough, players will begin to see that not everything is apparent. Puzzles become larger, have more rules to figure out, and some really begin to test both the player’s logic as well as their observation.
Not everything is as it seems.
I want to be slightly vague on this game due to the fact that figuring out how some puzzles work is part of the game itself. Those quintessential “ah-ha!” moments are sometimes difficult to find, but every time I had one, it was rewarding and satisfying. If logic isn’t working for a puzzle, people need to realize they may very well be focusing on the wrong thing. When it becomes apparent what they need to do, they will see the answer was right in front of them the entire time, they just never realized it.
That is the brilliance of The Witness, every puzzle players come across is solvable right then and there. There is no gated access or some type of progression system in place here. If I knew what to do, I could solve it. It feels so open.
A puzzling paradise.
Along with exploring puzzles, players can take in the views of this island. For one thing, it is absolutely gorgeous. The art style and look of it all is really unique and had me in awe a few times as to how pretty it looked visually. This also works in multiple ways for puzzles themselves. Players need to pay attention to their surroundings. They may very well see something that interests them and not realize it could be a puzzle to solve.
Now, there isn’t much story to be told here. There are audio logs that can be found that have clips containing quotes, but it is rather obscure and mysterious, much like the island itself along with the entire experience. Looking back on it, I can now see that was the drive to keep me playing and exploring. I wanted to see what else this island held. It was very compelling for a game that has no characters.
Once again. With feeling.
Now, the game isn’t without its faults. A few times I was annoyed with things that never broke the experience for me, but I most certainly found them to hinder me in a few spots. For instance, certain puzzle panels are connected. If I were to solve the first two connected panels then fail the third panel, the second panel would reset and I would have to solve it again. It’s not that big of an issue, but when trying to experiment with ideas when solving a puzzle, the last thing I want to do is have to reenter the solution to the puzzle that came before it.
Traversal is decently paced, there is a run button that allowed me to move a bit faster, but some issues cropped up when wanting to drop from a ledge. There is no jump button, and I understand why there isn’t one, but in some instances, I would find myself on a ledge that wasn’t even a foot off the ground and I would have to walk all the way around it just to get to a puzzle that was five feet away from me if the game would have let me drop down.
The Witness is such an interesting game. It is so simple in many ways, but in the end, complex and difficult to master. Puzzle games can be hit or miss with many people. I, for one, found it intriguing and mysterious just like the beautiful island the game takes place on. It’s a game that made me feel dumb as a rock and intelligent as Einstein all in the same moment. It really is a special game that is difficult to come by. After playing it, I feel like my observation skills have increased. Who knows? Maybe you’ll learn something too. If you have any interest in logic puzzles and want to explore a pretty interesting world, the Witness is a must own.
Review copy of game provided by publisher.