The Witness is not a game to take lightly. When you first see the color palette, the island setting, and the overall look of the game you may be lulled into a false sense of security and ease, but it will soon chew you up and spit you out. With that said, it can be an extremely relaxing game as well and is something that anyone that enjoys puzzles should not miss, despite the difficulty.
I should preface this review/impressions article with this, I have yet to finish The Witness. The game is some 40-50 hours long depending at how good you are at solving puzzles, and isn’t meant to be blasted through. So take this article as something to give you an idea of what the game is all about, and to help you decide if you want to invest your hard-earned $40 into Jonathan Blow‘s pocket. Blow, as you might remember, is also the creator of Braid. One of the best of the best in terms of “first gen” Xbox Live Arcade games. The time-changing man in a suit showed Blow’s chops, and The Witness shows his depth and design.
So, what is The Witness? Well, it’s a puzzle game at its core. You progress around the open world by finding podiums and objects with square puzzle boxes on them. All the puzzles stem from a basic design, click on the circle to start a line, and drag the line to the exit point. Not too dissimilar from a maze. The difference is, as the game progresses and you go to different areas on the island you have to figure out the new twist to that basic puzzle design. Some areas force you to look through the puzzle display to see rocks out at sea, that map out the path you must draw your line on. Some have two lines that mirror each other and move together, so you must solve how to get them both to their endpoints, and so on and so forth. Each distinct area on the map has slightly different styles of puzzles all based on the core concept. The big thing is, there aren’t really any hints past the first 10-15 minutes of the game. You wander to a new area and have to look around and figure out how that location’s puzzle works. Sometimes this is extremely frustrating, but it’s always rewarding once you get it. That’s why I noted the game is relaxing and frustrating. You can kick back and relax and play The Witness in small chunks, but you may run up against a wall, so you put the game down and try again later.
The controls are simple. Your basic first-person style aiming and movement. You have an action button, and not much more. Overall The Witness is a very simple concept, and a very deep game. If you’ve played the Myst games in the past, you’ll get a good idea of what you’ll be up against here. The game, as noted earlier, is around 40-50 hours, but Blow notes you can spend 100+ trying for whole completion. At $40, it’s good that there is a time investment and it is worth the spend.
Overall The Witness is a great game, and a great way to show that games don’t have to be your $60 blockbuster shooters or RPGs to succeed in 2016. It’s the evolution of last generation’s Xbox Live Arcade and PlayStation Network games, and it falls in with fantastic looking games like No Man’s Sky and Firewatch that will also release this year. The game may frustrate you at times, but keep at it, the payoff is always worth it. You can play The Witness on PS4 or PC, so you have a choice, but it works very well with a controller, no matter what you choose. If you’re a puzzle game fan, or just looking to change up the monotony of the pas few months of mega releases, The Witness may just be the change of pace you’re looking for.