The Witness review – Picturesque, provoking puzzles

Has your friend ever found a partner that you just couldn’t stand, but they were hopelessly in love with? It’s almost as if Thursday game night is not important anymore, and your friend’s entire world is encapsulated by a person who you think resembles a buffalo. But enough about my high school years – The Witness by none other than Braid creator Jonathan Blow is exactly like this. You’re either going to love it and it’ll consume your thoughts, time and emotions; or you’ll fail to understand why everyone seems to be playing a thinly veiled IQ test instead of Counter Strike.

Regardless of how you feel, The Witness is game that not only demands your attention, but deserves it.

Digital dog treats

Without ruining too much, The Witness begins by locking you up in a claustrophobic’s nightmare. You can’t move anywhere but forward – mainly because if you tried you’d hit the wall. After you do some menial puzzles in the form of basic mazes, you open up into a larger area where you do some puzzles that are connected to each other… which opens into the main play area.

This is the first example of how the game rewards players. First, the game presents the player with a simple puzzle so that the player can understand what is required from them. Then they present the player with more complex puzzles using the same principle (or others that they learned in the past). Once the player solves this, the game rewards the player with a beautiful vista, an intriguing snippet of the game narrative or with more freedom.

Throw in some basic exploration and there, in a nutshell, you have The Witness in terms of gameplay. The game essentially consists of the player walking from area to area solving maze puzzles with different variations until they unlock the next area or bonus. The beauty of these maze puzzles is that they can all be solved without the player exploring much or even looking for clues… but then the player needs an IQ comparable to Einstein. This is where the game becomes a little more interesting.

The player is bound to encounter a puzzle which their mind cannot solve through logic alone. This is where being a Witness to the environment helps – clues are scattered all around the player, from broken twigs on the ground, to the movements of the clouds above the player. In fact, certain areas use  logic from areas that have no locked door or reward – they just look similar to the art style of the harder version, linking the two for the player to figure out for himself.

This is fortunate, because The Witness does not hold your hand in any way. There isn’t even a menu screen before starting. The player is essentially alone – and it creates a beautiful, haunting atmosphere.

Did you Myst me?

A lot of people are thinking by now, “Hey this is the spiritual successor to Myst!” Well, not quite.

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