It’s been awhile and there’s no better way to jump in then with a review for a game that both fascinates and frustrates me. I won’t be able to post any screenshots as I’m currently traveling but the amount of beauty I see when I’m traveling makes me think more about Johnathan Blow’s latest game, The Witness. It’s been a long time coming after (seven!!) years in development but it’s certainly one of the most gorgeous games I’ve played in awhile. Don’t come expecting a good story; you wake up on a mysterious island. That’s literally the only amount of plot given to you and the rest of the game is spent exploring said island and unlocking the mysterious cube at the top of the island, which is done by completing enough puzzles in a certain biome.
Now the puzzles, in one word, are deceptive. Every puzzle is based on the simple concept of drawing a line from one end to the other, but each puzzle you encounter builds on that concept and makes it that much harder. For example, a certain type of puzzle has you control two lines simultaneously, and then builds on that idea by requiring both lines to hit certain points on a path to the end, and then makes that concept even harder by making one of the two lines invisible, and forcing the player to do a large amount of guesswork as to where both lines can not only hit their required points in a path, but also not intersect with each other and get to the end. If that’s confusing, well, that’s The Witness in a nutshell. It’s often frustrating, overly complex, and a little too full of itself.
But again, there’s so much beauty to this world you almost don’t care. The game has everything from a snowcapped mountain to a zen garden. It’s diverse to say the least and each area has its own stark beauty and unique puzzle to tackle. You can tell how much detail is put into the environment as well, and it makes sense why. The game would not be half as interesting without these gorgeous environments as a background, even if it does look a little jarring to see a desert right next to a wooded forest. Each biome has its own calming beauty that not only relaxes but puts the player at ease and makes the puzzles seem more like a project than a challenge. That key difference is what separates the witness from every other puzzle game that was just “good” (see: Quantum Conundrum).
The thing that hurts The Witness the most however is just how pretentious it is. Certain areas of the game got to a point where they were no longer fun, they were just complicated for complicated’s sake. A great example is when in a late game area I realized (only after I was looking up the answers admittedly) that some puzzles were actually breaking their own rules which not only feels as if it defeats the purpose of a puzzle game but also left me feeling cheated.
That same idea can be applied to the story actually. As I said earlier, there is no plot besides figure out why you’re on an abandoned island with so many frozen figures. The problem is that the only way to get a “true” ending (one that isn’t halved anyway” is to solve every single puzzle in the game. Considering there’s over 500 that’s a little daunting and almost not worth it. For anyone like me who wasn’t willing to spend hours on end solving so many puzzles don’t bother looking up the ending. Pretty much every mystery the game presented is hastily solved with one answer that is far too lazy and, yet again, pretentious. It’s very disappointing to see a game so meticulous feel so rushed by the end.
Considering its $40 at the moment, wise consumers might be better off waiting for a sale; but for anyone who can ignore the snooty attitude of the game and enjoys what feels akin to lying on a gorgeous beach while solving a great crossword puzzle, The Witness more tha provides a calm but engaging vacation intolerant gorgeous island with some (usually) clever puzzles.
It’s getting ab 8/10 from me.