There’s nothing better than coming up against an uncrackable code or a relentless maze and finally, finally solving it’s riddle. The victory is made even sweeter when you’re met with an unbelievable view just beyond a doorway. The Witness is a game full to the brim with these moments. Moments of unfathomable anguish followed shortly by blissful relief. Sure, it’ll mess with your head, but you’ll have a fair few glorious snapshots to recall on in your fleeting moments of madness; it’s just enough to bring you back from the brink of mania. Maybe.
If, like me you are a fan of Adventure Puzzlers, the Witness is a game that is sure to enchant you. Get ready to lose yourself in this intelligent and captivating tale solving mystery after mystery alone in a beautiful world.
From the very beginning, this game doesn’t hesitate to introduce you to a fully explorable world; a scenic Island with blue skies, crystal waters and vibrant, diverse landscapes. Your only boundaries – the puzzles that patrol the Island’s gates, bridges and levers that you must solve to progress. Your only weapon – the ability to draw pathways through the many complex mazes you’ll come across on your journey.
After the first bout of puzzle cracking, breaking my way out of some pristine walled gardens, I couldn’t help but smile. I was instantly captivated by the view that greeted me. There are many of these palpable moments throughout the game that make you want to stop and stare, take a good long 360° scan of your horizons and exhale. There’ll also be plenty of head splitting moments of frustration to balance out this serenity. After the 50th attempt of drawing different variations of the same f*****g line, you might just hurl your controller at the screen. Yeah, it’s primarily a give and take relationship.
It’s as simple as it sounds; walk around, find a puzzle, press ‘A’ and draw the correct pattern to crack it. But early on you’ll soon realise there’s a lot more to drawing lines than maybe once thought. A myriad of new rules, furtively introduced, pop up with nearly every puzzle. Sometimes the level up is fairly straightforward, but the next leap can just as easily be wholly far-fetched, just to keep you on your toes. At times we’re met with a step by step lesson to teach us said rule, then other times we’re left to our own defences to ‘figure it out’. This is definitely not a game to take at face value; that’s for sure. Be prepared to think and think hard, then go for a walk, come back and think some more.
One thing I’d recommend is keeping a pencil and paper close to your side to note down any patterns or lines you notice hiding in the landscape. The Witness has a habit of throwing an ambiguous shape up in the canopy that unlocks a puzzle further along on your adventure. “If you’re asking someone to pay attention to details, clues in the environment, then you as a designer have to go and make sure that what they see is going to be a high-quality experience,” Jonathon Blow (game creator) says. Stay alert at all times.
With over 100 hours of gameplay, we’re left to sidle through The Witness at a pace of our own. Feel free to leave the ‘Left Trigger’ (sprint) pretty much untouched. It’s the best way to enjoy every moment, trust me!
If you’re used to measuring your progress in a game through levelling up, finding objects, collectables or earning upgrades, The Witness may take some getting used to. It’s a world away from the materialistic and reward driven focus of many games today. The Witness is designed purely for the player’s journey. Be prepared to lose yourself in this quiet and complex world with the distinct purpose to keep moving and keep learning.
The Witness is a truly eye opening experience. It will challenge you to think alternatively and approach problems at a pace you may not be used to. I hope it encourages you to look at other games with new eyes; appreciate their landscapes, their characters and notice the smallest of details that would usually go unnoticed.
The Witness truly quenched my thirst for beautiful, peaceful and mysterious games that challenged more than just the dexterity of my thumbs. It takes the best parts of what I remember from my early gaming experience and launches us into a modern era of gaming. Take ‘Myst’, the 1993 adventure puzzler; a slightly unnerving exploration game with long and winding staircases, locked doors, long dark tunnels and submarines.
It was everything and more to entertain my humble but inquisitive mind. Being completely alone on an uncharted island was enough to freak me out and keep me checking over my shoulder for impending doom. An atmosphere the Witness also possesses.
Alongside this, ‘Syberia’ (2002) was a classic mystery adventure with a captivating, story and an intelligent, investigative protagonist (I can’t help but see a strong resemblance between Kate Walker and Lara Croft in the beautifully re-imagined Tomb Raider).
This game gave my curiosity a more sophisticated world to traverse, with plenty of mystery and intrigue along the way. The puzzles in this game were always my favourite parts, just as solving a tomb was also my favourite endeavour in Tomb Raider.
If this sounds like your kind of game, take a look at Firewatch, it’s sure to be another amazing adventure, full to the brim of story after story.
Another one to keep an eye on is Obduction, the new journey by Cyan Worlds creators of Myst. I’m very pleased to hear they’re bringing out another first person puzzler, designed for the profound thinker.
And lastly, those of you who remember Syberia, I’m sure you’ve heard by now that the third instalment is coming to our consoles after a long wait. I am definitely looking forward to reuniting with Kate Walker on another adventure.
So how was your experience of The Witness? Just as mind-blowing as mine I hope. Let us know in the comments!