Review: The Witness
To call The Witness a heavily anticipated game would be an understatement. Way back when, Jon Blow showed up out of the blue and gave us Braid, a beautifully drawn puzzle-platforming masterpiece. And while it was terrific, the fun was over too soon for many people, and we eagerly awaited Blow’s follow-up to his debut. We later found out that it would be called The Witness, and we waited patiently.
Well, the wait is finally over! I can tell you one thing right off the bat; it’s not short. Not by a damn-sight. This game has a ton of content. A ton. It’s massive. There’s just so much to do. The Witness starts slowly, with you walking down a corridor and into a castle where you encounter the first of over 500 puzzles. It starts off simply: connect a dot with another dot. You solve a few interconnected puzzles and then exit the castle you’re in to emerge on a colorful island. And then you have to figure it out from there.
The game is remarkably quiet; there is no voiceover, the island is empty, and you’re doing the Gordon Freeman thing and not saying anything. There’s not any music either (I ended up blasting through my Spotify playlists while solving puzzles). The only audio you get is in the form of the ambient noises of the island, the noises the puzzles make when you solve or fail. Later, you discover little audio recorders featuring sound clips of people reading from classical works that are related to themes like time, spirituality and consciousness. The island is a beautiful, mysterious place and it’s clearly filled with wonder and mystery. But I wasn’t exploring any of that wonder or mystery, because I was too busy fighting the urge to slam my head against the desk and yell ‘HOW DO I SOLVE THIS?’
The thing is, The Witness starts off simply enough, with each new puzzle presenting you with the logic of how the dots can be connected and then asking you to make more and more complex connections. Later, however many of the puzzles become simply abstruse. You just see a panel that you have to solve somehow, and there’s no visible hints on what to do. You don’t know how the puzzle works or fits together, you have to figure out its logic before you can even solve it. This logic comes in many different forms, and I don’t want to say anything about how it works for fear of spoiling it for anyone. But I will say that it is remarkably challenging, and I got stuck at several points. Like, I just couldn’t figure it out.
I appreciate a good challenge, but a well-designed puzzle should give me the tools to solve it while still making it difficult. While some of the Witness’ puzzles manage to work you into the core mechanic, many others just present you with a brick wall and tell you to start climbing. There’s definitely diversity in the challenges but it’s just ridiculous how hard the puzzles get at some point; they definitely could have been balanced out more.
This game has a ton of content. A ton. It’s massive. There’s just so much to do
And I get that a puzzle game still needs to challenge and stimulate to avoid becoming boring or too short. However, there are little things the game does early on which at the very least give you an idea of what you’re supposed to be doing. They might give you a slight tutorial and then just make the puzzles more and more complex. Or they’ll have a tile light up red indicating to you that you did something wrong. You’re not even sure what you did wrong, but at the very least you’re closer to the answer. Later on, you just see tiles with symbols/colors on them and you’re meant to deduce what these symbols mean with pretty much no guidance, and that’s when the puzzles become too difficult in my opinion.
Having said that, Jon Blow put a lot of work into this, and he manages a diverse range of puzzles in the game, so rather than criticizing The Witness as a whole I think it’s more accurate for me to say that a percentage of the game’s puzzles are really tough to get through. Many of the other puzzles were challenging but I was able to figure them out with some logic, and it really was fun for me to finally understand the solution. But on the whole, it was a very tense experience for me. Like, go into this only if you want to be truly challenged. You might get by if you use walkthroughs, but if you go for a purist run, expect no less than 20 hours.
I feel like game developers often have to walk that line between easy and hard in order to deliver something that you feel you can solve that also requires some serious thinking to reach a solution. And Witness manages to do that for many of its puzzles, but in later parts of the game it leans too heavily towards difficulty. However, the way its puzzles work are simply genius. Like, it’s hard for me to sit here and bash the game for being really difficult, because at the same time I admire the level of effort that went into crafting something this detailed. It really is something.
Overall, I think I can recommend The Witness based on what you like. If you want a real challenge and a game that forces you to think, The Witness is really high up there. If you want a casual, fun and light A masterfully crafted puzzle game that bears the marks of a labor of love, The Witness offers hours of mind-boggling puzzles for those who are willing to unlock its island’s secretspuzzle experience, that’s not what The Witness is selling.
The Witness was reviewed using an PC copy of the game provided by Thekla, Inc. The game was tested on a PC running Windows 7 Pro, with a 4GB NVIDIA Geforce GTX 970 fitted on a 4th Generation Intel i7 4790 3.6Ghz CPU and topped with 8GB of RAM. The game is also available on PlayStation 4 via digital release. We don’t discuss review scores with publishers or developers prior to the review being published
• Massive island to explore
• Easter eggs feature some very thought-provoking passages from philosophical works
• Tutorials are presented in a very clever manner
• No two puzzles are the same
• A mysterious setting that you can explore and learn more about
• Lack of a soundtrack
• Many puzzles are very difficult to figure out
• Puzzles all function along the same theme