Game: The Witness
Platform: iOS, Windows PS4
Publisher/Developer: Thekla Inc.
Describe This Game in Three Words: Oh, That’s What…
Plot: I got this game very late on launch day, so there’s not much to tell. In the tradition of Myst, you are a stranger on an island tasked with solving puzzles to reach a mountain in the center. Thus far I’ve discovered some audio recordings of Einstein quotes, but that’s it as far as plot and narrative go. This is Jonathan Blow’s (Braid) newest game, so we’re already dealing with the David Lynch of gaming as it is (I mean that in the highest regard).
Up, Up: There is a very fine line between puzzle game and adventure game. Portal 2 is a puzzle game that takes you on an adventure, while Life Is Strange is an adventure game with puzzles. The Witness is definitely on the puzzle side, and that’s what makes it so much fun to play.
What made Portal 2 a near-perfect game was the way the mechanics meshed with the narrative. It was a game about puzzles on two levels. The Witness manages the same feeling. Solving the island is the point, both mechanically and in a narrative sense, and as such, whenever you manage to work one out, you get a unique thrill only gaming can give you. It’s magically empowering.
Also, the game is gorgeous. I mentioned Myst, but imagine Myst in a world where Legend of Zelda: Windwaker and Blow’s own Braid exist. The colors are vibrant and alive in a way that I haven’t seen since Unfinished Swan, and exploring the land is top-notch. The Witness is a very good game.
Down, Down: It’s also maddening. You know those logic tests we all got in school to determine who would be a productive member of society and who would end up being a florist or a video game reviewer? Welcome to the high-tech version of that.
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Solving puzzles is truly rewarding, but be prepared to be very disappointed in yourself. Unless you’re a MENSA member, you’ll probably be heading to the Internet within the first hour trying to decode the game’s secrets. That’s not necessarily bad, but it should be noted that this is not a puzzler you can power through. Bring your A game or stay home.
Left, Right, Left, Right: A game has literally never been simpler to navigate. You walk, look around, and two buttons controls using the puzzles. There’s even a run function for the impatient, and you won’t tire out. If I had to pick an apex of the walking simulator model, this would be it.
B, A: This is a very slow burn of a game. Don’t delve into it thinking you’re going to ace it in a few hours, even if at times it feels like the sort of game you can. Blow has made himself something extraordinary, a puzzle made of other puzzles. There’s a story hidden behind it, but it’s only going to be grokked in full. This is a long-haul game.
Start? If you were looking for a sequel to Braid, you will be disappointed. However, if you want to see a game that shows titles like Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture to school on how to mechanically make a first-person experience, look no further. The holy trinity of first-person puzzlers has its third angle, finally: Myst, Portal 2 and The Witness.