The Witness (Game Review)

There are some games you play because you want to have pure fun (Rocket League), experience a great story (God of War), explore a vast open world (Red Dead Redemption II), or make some heads explode like watermelons (Call of Duty). Then, there are games you play that you’re not really sure why you decided to finish it; did it offer great fun, story, exploration, or violence? Well, no. Then why?

The unmatched wave of accomplishment; the feeling that you decrypted the secrets of the world alone, and came out victorious.

The Witness offers you exactly that. You start the game in a long corridor and are told nothing. In front of you lies a screen with a line and a large dot on one end of the line. What do you do? Click. Then, you’re able to fill in the line. Click again. Done. Door opens. Now you know how to play. You’re thrown into a completely empty world with no idea what to do or where to go…except, you know exactly what do to and how to get there. Solve puzzles. The brilliant tutorial system is woven into the game itself so that it feels as though you’re teaching yourself when the game is actually nudging you towards the answers it wants you to figure out yourself.

There seems to be little structure to the order in which you explore and traverse but by figuring out little things, one at a time, you’re soon able to do everything. Is a puzzle impossible? Come back to it later. Then, after solving other puzzles, you’ll have a better grasp of how to get the one that was giving you a hard time. This game offers 12 (and more) areas to play around in and beat, each one offering you unique ideas of how to solve puzzles, and different puzzles to solve each time. Each place is hand-crafted to offer you a different experience through not only the types of puzzles on the screens but also through the environment you’ll find yourself in. Hedge mazes, tinted glass, bird whistles, water reflections, sunlight, and so many other things will help you find your way to each solution– if you only know what to pay attention to.

I made myself sick three times this week since I’d be so captivated by the game that I’d accidentally skip a meal and my blood-sugar would drop. I’m not sure how long it took me to beat the game but I’d guess somewhere between 10 and 12 hours, which were very long and stressful hours at times. I also attempted to do the Challenge Room but the randomized puzzles meant that luck had more to do with the completion of it than skill did, especially when I’d blaze through the puzzles and then get stumped on one but the next attempt would be the opposite. I realized that to beat it, you’d just have to play until you get a string of easy puzzles and could do the whole thing in under 6 minutes. I didn’t want another headache so I skipped it, but in doing so I sort of figured out what I alluded to in my introduction.

This game is hard to call “fun,” but it’s easy to enjoy because it’s very rewarding. The feeling of finally getting a puzzle you’ve been stuck on for 30 minutes is great but now that I’ve reached the endgame, I sort of feel as though I wanted more from the experience. Without a doubt, my favorite parts of the game weren’t even part of the “game” itself; little lectures you’d unlock by doing extra puzzles. These lectures (5 total) were from talks given about the meaning of life, and there were also smaller speeches you could find around the map hidden on little USB-like devices. I wish the game put more of an emphasis on these instead of making them more like Easter Eggs as they were the closest thing to a story that this game offered.

I suppose these talks, though, sort of are the story, or at least the topics represent what the game is trying to tell you. I’ll stray away from specifics as one could consider them a spoiler but the main point from one of them is that you can only be happy when you stop trying to be happy. You can only find what you’re looking for when you look at what you already have, and you can only be yourself when you stop trying to be at all… more or less. I might have started to make things up just then but it sounded good and I never actually listened to the entire lecture. Anyways, that’s what I think the game is about because the endgame will tell you something similar, but metaphorically so.

This is a game that will surely stump you at times but towards the end, I felt as though the game wasn’t trying to be increasingly challenging, but rather trying to be increasingly difficult. Difficulty can either be natural or forced but challenge implies reward. This game is extremely rewarding because it’s increasingly challenging but the difficulty that it forces at the end makes it more of a chore to complete. Like “do this puzzle,” then “do it upside down,” and “do it when it’s flashing, spinning, and mirrored” sort of thing. Yes, I can do the puzzle. Now, I don’t want to do the puzzle. Why are you doing this to me?

The game is wholly rewarding aside from one single room in the Mountain: with TVs on the wall that really just try to make things as difficult as possible. There is complexity which inherently results in challenge and reward, and then there’s just being a pain in the ass which nobody likes at all. Other than that, though, I’d say that this game is just about as solid as a puzzle game can get. It mixes light exploration with addicting puzzle types and a world that makes you want to continue on. It lacked an atmospheric score and a real answer to “why” but I’m happy that I played it and I’d definitely be interested in going back to play it again, at the very lease for the Platinum trophy.

As always, thanks for reading and I’ll see you soon!

Published by Blake Carson Schwarz

Indiana University graduate in Media and Creative Writing. I love to write my own stories as well as experience the work of others. On this site, I post reviews, essays, and other fun posts that I hope you have as much fun reading and I have writing. Please share any comments you have, I'd be happy to hear what you think! *Never a critic, always a fan*

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