Along the lines.
*The Witness was originally reviewed on PlayStation 4 and posted on 8BitChimp.com on February 13th, 2016.
The Witness is a thing of aspiring proportions and lofty thoughts. While it is based around the mechanic of solving puzzles, it harkened back to feelings of nostalgia and remembrance. I’m a kid again, taking long car rides and finding meaning in nothing, finding meaning in everything, just a bored but investigative kid. My finger is up against the car window, tracing along phone lines and across the tops of fences. My foot eventually taps along to the hum of the highway. Nighttime comes and I’m searching the shadows for secrets. There’s a pattern and there’s repetition everywhere. It’s paired with a sense of whimsy and imagination, but also one of intrigue and discovery. The Witness is mystical and magical, harrowing and invigorating all the same. The Witness is truly something special.
To speak candidly about The Witness, would be to give away precious secrets and truths. Yes, there is plenty, and I mean plenty, to talk about, but I’ll be tiptoeing around the main comings-and-goings within The Witness, for the sake of all of those reading. Do I want to talk about REDACTED and when I finally realized how REDACTED REDACTED and REDACTED came together? Of course, but I’ll keep it spoiler-free throughout.
The Witness is a first-person puzzle adventure game. You are an unnamed and silent protagonist, isolated on a strange island. You don’t know why you’re there, or who you are, and the only choice is to move forward. Forward unto puzzles, you must go. There’s no tutorial either, well not exactly, but we’ll get to that. Movement and interaction within the world is inferred, learned, adapted to. There’s no hand holding, a rare feat in the modern landscape of game design. Puzzles are precisely placed, stationary teachers all the same. The Witness is maniacally simple, an enigma through and through.
The presentation and preparation of puzzles in The Witness is extraordinary. There is a grand sense of exploration while trekking across this strange new residence. The island is small enough to traverse across in a few short moments, but replete with enough striking locales to surprise you into astonishment and awe. Along with that intrepid evaluation, comes an inevitable sense of fear that doesn’t come across in many games. There’s no mini-map, no objective marker, just you and the island. And puzzles. And more puzzles. And lots more puzzles. Did I mention that there might be puzzles? Precisely scattered across this island are 677 line puzzles. I told you that there’d be puzzles.
The puzzles within The Witness have driven me insane, all the while making me feel like the smartest boy alive. It’s a give and take relationship unlike any that I’ve experienced before. Yes, Jonathan Blow has created simple line puzzles, but these puzzles often exceed rational thought and rule. But there’s the catch—there’s always a rule. This rule always translates into a solution for the puzzles. Now you may stumble across a set of puzzles that you don’t know the rules for yet, or you may not comprehend the rule until you practice with introductory puzzles, but there’s always a rule.
Jonathan Blow has created simple line puzzles, but these puzzles often exceed rational thought and rule. But there’s the catch, that there’s always a rule.
And you must remember the rules. You must adapt to the rules. When you’re able to do so, The Witness provides the most satisfying hook I’ve personally experienced in a game in quite some time. On the flip side, I often wasn’t able to immediately figure out a puzzle, and it would equate to the most frustrating aspect that I’ve faced in the aforementioned scenario. But it was always my fault, and that translated into a sick addiction. Just one more puzzle, just one more attempt, just one more. It’s a dangerous crevice to creep across, but a truly brilliant loop.
The Witness is entirely intimidating in ways that I didn’t expect. No, this isn’t because of monsters or bad guys or a Doomsday Clock, but because of my own intelligence. The Witness challenged that intelligence, challenged my own sense of self. If I was stuck on a puzzle, could I have asked for help or waited until a guide went up? Of course I could have, but I didn’t want to. The Witness challenged me not to and challenged me to be more than that. The Witness confronted me in ways that most games fail to do. No, I wasn’t tasked with shooting the bad guys faster before they did the same to me. I wasn’t forced to remember a QTE in order to progress. The Witness questioned my intellectual literacy and understanding beyond what most forms of media do, much less other video games.
The Witness haunted my dreams and invaded my waking life. It forced me to bring the game out into the real world to work with puzzles in ways that we’ve hardly seen video games do since pre-internet Dark Ages. The Witness challenged not only my intelligence but also my sanity, and yet, I’m still all the better from it. No, this game is not for everyone. If you don’t enjoy puzzles, it’s likely that you’re going to have a rough time. But, if you head into The Witness with an open mind, you’re likely to be involved with one of the most prodigiously brilliant experiences in quite some time.