- Format: PC (version reviewed), PS4
- Unleashed: Out Now
- Publisher: Thekla
- Developer: Thekla
- Players: 1
- Site: http://the-witness.net/
- Game purchased by the reviewer
Jonathan Blow could easily be called a genius and he, along with the rest of the team at Thekla, should be dubbed as such. Braid was pretty damn good but The Witness is phenomenal at what it wants to do. It’s by no means perfect and at points within the game it can be a slog for one reason or another, but much of that is still reinforced by the necessity to make the puzzles unique and interesting. It’s a puzzle game where you draw lines to get from a start point to an end point; but that’s a really basic and unhelpful description that misses what makes it interesting.
You wouldn’t describe Dark Souls as “hurting monsters until they’re dead” and so you shouldn’t describe The Witness as “solving line puzzles”. The Witness is about following logical rules that allow you, the player, to complete puzzles. Yes, basic puzzles are about making a line from A to B and Dark Souls is about hitting monsters ‘til they’re dead but both offer much more complexity than those descriptions allow.
While the first set of puzzles only follows that one basic rule, you’ll come across an area almost immediately afterwards where two lines are drawn by you at the same time. This isn’t a spoiler as it’s immediately evident that that is what the puzzles are about. So, neither of these lines can cross and they both have their own exits to enter too. This gets compounded with extra things as you progress through the puzzle sequence. And that is how things are; each area tends to add one new element for you to learn and it occasionally gets called back to in other areas.
This slow layering of logic isn’t the only trick in Blow’s book of puzzles though. He repeatedly gets the player to step back and take a new perspective on things, as not all the puzzles are to be taken at face value. It’s cruel, but in a deeply intelligent way that made us grin like Cheshire Cats ear to ear. There may also have been expletives directed at Blow such as “Jonathan Blow you beautiful bastard” when coming across one particularly ingenious trick.
Now, the game as it stands is probably one that will be cited for many, many years to come. It’s a puzzle game that’s made and designed to prove interesting and challenging. It’s definitely not to everyone’s tastes but it is something that we dove into and devoured for in excess of 20 hours to complete the “ending”.
Now when you get a puzzle in an adventure game the tendency for most people, including ourselves, is to try the obvious answer, then every option available to us ranked by what makes sense or what we decide to fling at the puzzle in a lacklustre attempt to brute-force the puzzle. When that all fails we turn to guides.
DO NOT DO THIS IN THE WITNESS!
Blow himself tweeted to try to turn people away from this method; instead he says (this is very much paraphrased), “step away from the puzzle, go elsewhere in the game, leave your computer, alt-tab out; just don’t use a guide”. If you come back to it you might just solve it first time. That’s arguably the best thing in the game – the fact that one moment you can’t for the life of you work out the answer, then Eureka! Suddenly you’ve got it. You feel intelligent; that feeling may wane once you get stumped on another puzzle, but it sure is good while it lasts.
The Witness is not without its faults. There are some sequences of puzzle boards that make you retread the previous board if you get one wrong. Attempt a solution that’s wrong and the board turns black; finish the previous board again and it lights up once more, and you get another attempt. Yes, we understand this is to stop people guessing at random, but when there are puzzles that involve audio or colour it becomes infuriating for anyone who doesn’t have a “good ear” and downright impossible for deaf or colour-blind people to complete their respective puzzles.
Other than that, the only thing that even slightly edges on annoyance is that some areas are blocked off in a way that means you have to fiddle with puzzles to access that area quickly. It only really becomes a bother when you have lots of travelling to do with finishing the odd puzzle here or there, but it’s a little tedious to trek back and forth even though it’s on a frankly gorgeous island – which looks like a really well-crafted voxel Minecraft clone at times.
It’s a really, really enjoyable game. It’s clever and it makes you feel clever. It’s definitely not for everyone, but neither is Dark Souls or Call of Duty or Hearthstone or countless other games that appeal to people not normally interested in those respective genres. Yes it’s a puzzle game and a damn fine one at that; but more people have bought and enjoyed it despite not normally being attracted to puzzle games. At £30/$40 or whatever the price may be, it is a bloody good price for a bloody good time that should easily sap hours in double figures.