The Witness is an extremely special game and the experience really benefits from you going in with as little knowledge as possible. The pleasure in playing this game comes from solving puzzles by yourself and having those “eureka” moments where everything slots into place. My review will end with a 5/5 score so if you were on the fence about buying this or waiting to buy it at a later date my advice would be to stop reading and experience it for yourself.
In it’s simplest form The Witness is a puzzle game. You control an unseen character as he or she wanders around a mysterious island solving puzzles to unlock the secrets this island holds. Right away you notice that this game doesn’t give you any written hints on what to do. All of the information is communicated visually which I think increases the level of intrigue you have during the early stages.
The line puzzles start out fairly simple but pretty soon they slowly start adding in more complex elements. In the starting puzzles you simply have to find the right path through the line maze but then you’ll start seeing different symbols on the puzzles that you have to figure out yourself. Some of these are pretty simple, like black and white squares that need to be separated on your path to completing the maze. Then you’ll come across a puzzle with what looks like a Tetris block on it which is not so simple to figure out. These Tetris puzzles took me about 8 hours of searching to finally “get it” and even then I still had some learning to do. There are also some puzzles that factor in the environment such as having to take into account shadows cast on the board or having to trace round a rock formation you can see behind the puzzle board.
A walk on the weird side
Luckily if you get stuck on a series of puzzles (which will probably happen) you’re free to wander the whole island to look for some other puzzles you can complete. The island is split up into roughly 12 areas, each with their own puzzle theme so sometimes wandering off to try another area can help you figure out previous puzzles because you never know what you’ll find. There are tonnes of secrets and subtle hints hidden all around the island, it’s a captivating place to explore with some of the most beautiful art design I’ve ever seen in a game.
This game really makes you feel like you’re straddling the line between genius and madness. There were points in the game where I had to actually sketch out the solutions to a puzzle on paper. I felt like an idiot while I was doing it but when it actually worked I was filled with a sense of accomplishment that I don’t think I’ve ever felt while playing a video game before.
I also have countless bad photos of the TV on my phone to help me out with the perspective based puzzles:
For me this is where I got the most enjoyment out of The Witness. This is definitely a game that is meant to be enjoyed at your own pace. There were many times I would be beating my head against 1 puzzle only to miraculously solve it in a few tries when I loaded up the game the next day.
The mountain top
Your main goal in the witness is to solve all of the puzzles in at least 7 of the game’s 11 areas. Each area you complete activates a laser beam that points to the final area atop a huge mountain in the middle of the island. Supposedly there are around 600 puzzles altogether, I only had to beat around 300 to actually get to the ending. But you’re not going to get any kind of closure or explanation of what the hell this island is from beating the game. There isn’t an overt story to be found but I didn’t feel like I needed that. The journey through this amazing game was enough to to leave me completely satisfied when I was done with the game.