After the success of the critically acclaimed puzzle platformer Braid, game designer Jonathan Blow has finally completed his next project. The first-person puzzle adventure The Witness has been in production since late 2008, setting expectations to a maximum. Let’s see if Blow’s vision is capable of becoming a legend.
If Dark Souls was a puzzle game
With over 650 puzzles, The Witness knows how to keep you occupied for a while. At the beginning of the game, you will learn the basic mechanic of solving the little mysterious boards, which are scattered all over the island. The simplicity of just tracing a path through a maze-like route will quickly be expanded by several factors. Sometimes the solutions can be found within the puzzle, other times they require out of the box thinking and force you to pay attention to your environment. The game provides you with no hints or clues whatsoever, so it’s kind of necessary to step back quite often and focus on another part of the island. Still, I enjoyed exchanging secrets and strategies with other players, which always drove me to come back to the game. Even Blow himself stated that only one percent of players will be able to complete the apparently 80-hour-long game. With this punishing attitude, The Witness can be considered the Dark Souls of puzzle games.
Hitting the wall
The thing that messes really hard with the overall picture of the island is its utter tranquility. In a game of that extend, why did nobody consider adding background music? Since some puzzles keep me staring at a single frame for minutes, I often felt forced to add external music by myself, which shouldn’t be the case in any thought-out game. Another thing that interfered with my engagement was the motion sickness The Witness seems to be causing for many players. I have no trouble playing long VR sessions or riding a rollercoaster, yet I can’t play this game for longer than an hour without feeling sick for another one. This issue is already worked on, but for now I’m kind of forced to experience the game in tiny pieces.
I’m too smart for you
I don’t know if The Witness simply lacks good game design or if its intentionally wanting to defeat the player. Good puzzle games build on experience and allow the player to get better by adjusting to the world’s rules and mechanics. It feels like instead of showing genuine interest in challenging the player, Jonathan Blow stands above his audience, feasting on the frustration of the ever so dumb common folk. In The Witness, you are constantly presented with dead ends, insomuch that unsolvable puzzles seem to be intentionally placed in-between your natural line of progress. This makes you travel a lot more than you’re originally intended, even though the world doesn’t provide you with much things to look at on your way.
A challenge in many ways
The Witness‘ massive island challenged me in a way no other puzzle game ever did before. Its mysteries are brilliant and of a rewarding nature, yet I have to admit that I’m in a love-hate relationship with the game. It deliberately stops me from playing for a consecutive hour, whether because of its cognitive obstacles, its intimidating silentness, or its capability of causing physical exhaustion. Wouldn’t it be for some wrong decisions Jonathan Blow is probably aware of, The Witness could have been an outstanding puzzle masterpiece, capable of blowing everyones mind.
What we liked:
- Puzzle complexity
- Required out-of-the-box thinking
- Vast environment
What we didn’t like:
- Lack of background music
- Occasional motion sickness
- Intentionally punishing nature
This review was written by using a PlayStation 4 review code provided by Sony PlayStation. What do you think of The Witness? Are you a fan of puzzle games? Tell us in the comments, on Facebook, or on Twitter!