If puzzles are your thing, The Witness is a very good game, but it just lacks a little something to give it that spark or mass appeal. The puzzles are ingenious, with a real emphasis on building up to harder challenges late on, but whether this is a definitive title in the puzzle genre remains to be seen.
The Witness is a unique puzzle game that boasts gorgeous art design and some ingenious puzzles. With the focus solely on the puzzles themselves, the game so easily could have turned into a tedious grind, but there’s enough variety in the puzzles and environment design to prevent that occurring. There’s not another game like it, with the creative genius of creator Jonathan Blow on full display, but there are times where it feels a little pretentious.
The game begins with a linear corridor leading on to the first simple line puzzle to show how the mechanics work before opening up a slightly larger area with a few more puzzles. The aim of each puzzle is very simple – using a square grid, move a single line from one side to the other. It quickly begins to become more complicated as you get the hang of the mechanics and once the opening area is complete, a door opens and the entire island can be explored. It’s here that the game really opens up and the art style is shown off in all its glory. Whether it is the gorgeous reflective water or the fiery orange leaves and trees choking parts of the landscape, there’s no denying that The Witness is a very good-looking game.
With a non-linear approach to completing the puzzles, if a certain grid does stump you for a while there’s nothing stopping you from simply moving to a different area and trying to solve a different set of puzzles. It’s a good system, although once you begin exhausting all the puzzles you can do, it does become difficult to choose which of the tough sections to try and tackle. Having said that, difficulty will of course depend on two things – how dedicated you are to puzzle games in general, and how much you learn through the game. That might sound a little pretentious and in many ways the game does play on this, which some might perceive in the wrong way. Many of the puzzles build upon the rules you learn with each section. Some puzzles will require you to create a certain shape, others to separate black and white dots, and so on. During the latter periods of the game with the hardest puzzles, all of the different rules learnt through the areas on the island come together for some of the toughest challenges the game has to offer.
Dotted throughout the world are audio tapes that you can pick up that are basically recordings of famous intelligent minds through history. The purpose they serve is simply up to your own interpretation, but some of the best theories include a play back on the main title, “The Witness”, that shows any meaningful task or successful objective is only deemed that way if witnessed by someone else. It’s a very thought provocative idea and one that the lack of any sort of narrative helps to carve. Of course, this is also one of the downsides to the game, and for those who prefer a more structured approach to a narrative might be at a bit of a loss here. Beyond being told you’ve been dumped on this island full of puzzles, there isn’t a whole lot more story-wise to go on.
Having said all that, The Witness is definitely an acquired taste. With minimal music, a plethora of puzzles and not much else to do, it’s an open world puzzle game in the purest sense of the word. There’s no fighting, there’re no characters to speak to (unless you count the stone statues of people dotted around the island) and the puzzles take centre stage for vast periods of this game. For all its beauty – and The Witness is a beautiful game – a lot of the time spent playing this will be staring at the grids. If puzzles are your thing, The Witness is a very good game, but it just lacks a little something to give it that spark or mass appeal. The puzzles are ingenious, with a real emphasis on building up to harder challenges late on, but whether this is a definitive title in the puzzle genre remains to be seen.