By Matthew Murphy
The Witness is the newest game created by Jonathan Blow, the brilliant mind behind the critically acclaimed game Braid (2008). This is a puzzle game unlike any other, where you control an unnamed character roaming an open world island that is filled with man-made and natural structures. Throughout each area on the island you will find maze like puzzles presented on panels, with each puzzle having a different rule. The basic premise behind these puzzles is that you must draw the correct path from a circular starting point to a specific end point located on that panel.
The gameplay in The Witness brings a refreshing new take on the puzzle genre that keeps you wanting to solve just one more of the 650 or so puzzles that are located in the game. Each of the areas in the game has a unique rule to solving these puzzles, ranging from something simple such as connecting the path through black dots, to something incredibly complicated like having to create the shapes of multiple Tetris pieces on each maze. Every puzzle has a different rule, and towards the end of the game you will eventually have to solve panels where more than one rule is put together. There are tutorials located in the beginning of each area where very simple puzzles are your only introduction to the new rules. You are left to explore the island on your very own, finding areas such as a desert ruin, a monastery, or an abandoned town. Ultimately the main goal is to finish each zone and activate its laser to eventually open up the mountain acting as the final area to the game.
The game is gorgeously designed, full of vibrant colors that makes it incredibly enjoyable to go out and discover each new section of the island. Throughout each area you may find hidden puzzles, secret audio recordings of famous philosophers, or perhaps discover town people frozen in stone. The scenery provides a beautiful and peaceful backdrop as you aimlessly walk around the island looking for where to go next.
Completing the game took me about 50 hours, with some puzzles taking me over two hours to solve. Although frustrating at times, I enjoyed the challenge of attempting to solve each puzzle, but the accomplishment of doing so even more. At times though, the lack of interaction or story line lead to a somewhat less enjoyable experience. Some puzzles were so difficult it caused me to walk away or in moments of complete desperation, ended with me having to look up the solution online.
The Witness is not meant for everyone. If you are not a fan of the puzzle genre of gaming you will find no enjoyment in playing something like this. There is no true introductions given in the game, leaving you totally on your own to try and figure out the solutions. This can be somewhat of a nuisance when you are overwhelmed with where to go or what to do next. Some might find this infuriating and causes a lack of motivation to complete the game. I think a better job could have been done in guiding the players along the journey while also keeping them engaged and immersed throughout.
Johnathan Blow did an absolutely amazing job creating, in my opinion, one of the most well designed puzzle games ever released. The simple idea of going from one point to another in each puzzle becomes something that is actually incredibly difficult and thought provoking to complete. Once you figure out the principle behind every zone, you feel motivated to go out and solve more. The Witness does a brilliant job of accomplishing what it is meant to be; a challenging, rewarding take on the puzzle genre. If you are a fan of this or just want to try something new I highly recommended playing The Witness and challenging yourself to complete one of the hardest games that I have ever played.