Such beauty within these challenges.
The Witness on PlayStation 4
After the success of Braid, Jonathan Blow knew he wanted to do something different. Years later, The Witness was born, a puzzle game that eschewed the regular conventions of the genre, thrusting players into an open world with little in the ways of guidance. Such a game is two-fold challenge. How does a developer give something so large and free a precise focus, inviting players to both enter and stay? It’s a challenge that The Witness faces head on as it wows at every turn.
The Witness is not about bells and whistles. There is no stunning cutscene nor tear-jerking melody to usher you into its world. You start the game standing in a tunnel, you walk straight ahead only to find a door. On that door is a sliding lock, the game gives you simple instruction on how to use it.
That is all you get in terms of direction and introduction. What lies beyond that locked door is a world of impossible beauty. Lush greens, bright pinks, crystal blues, and every other color that screams paradise. This is the first discovery, but one of many. The wonder of discovery plays a major role in The Witness, and it becomes the driving force for everything you do from the moment you step into its sunlit world.
As you drink in the beauty, you’ll notice puzzles scattered on various panels about the place. These are the true stars of The Witness. They work just like that sliding lock that introduced you to the world, but as you progress deeper, they evolve into a new beast entirely. The subtle yet challenging growth in complexity through course of your exploration, all driven by simple interaction, is a true feat of design. Small grids that serve as mazes for are the base of it all, but things soon escalate past simply getting from point ‘A’ to point ‘B’.
You’ll have to learn the rules of each new mechanic as they appear. Knowledge can be slow and challenging to earn, but you’ll eventually find yourself building a repertoire of understanding and combining your experiences to solve more complex conundrums.
Slowly and organically, the world of The Witness and its puzzles become one in many different ways, each helping to solve the mysteries of the other. As they become one, you’ll get the game’s best rewards: those “a-ha!” moments.
The Witness gives players everything they need, whether they realize it or not. All of the mysteries locked within this gem are actually out there, and all you need to do is seek them out. Sometimes it will take hours (we aren’t kidding) to figure out the inner workings of a particularly difficult maze, but as you roam the world, if you keep your eyes open, the answers will come to you. Those are the moments where you’ll find yourself running back to that impossible challenge with a smile on your face, because that world has opened itself up to you once again.
The Witness’ open world will feel like a detriment to some, though others may feel like it compounds the feeling of discovery. Finding the “right order” to go about doing things is just as “a-ha!” worthy as figuring out a puzzle and, in a way, it turns the entire world into one big riddle rather than a setting filled with individual puzzles.
Despite its puzzle focus, The Witness is not without a story. There is no text found in the world, and the player does not speak, but there are scattered voice recordings available to those with a keen eye and a flair for exploration. Voiced by several individuals, they share a disembodied tale of discovery, religion, science, and introspection.
The many secrets of The Witness are locked behind a demanding system of puzzles that weave seamlessly into the gorgeous world. Every single element of the game – the puzzles, the story, the mystery – all ties back to this beautiful island that you were let loose in to explore.
The depth of organic interaction, witnessing the world melt seamlessly into itself, makes for a near perfect experience. The Witness is a constant idea just within reach and then, once you grasp it, a new perspective altogether. It won’t be quick nor easy to solve, but you can’t help but be enraptured by its beauty through every frustration and moment of clarity.