Review: The Witness (PS4)
It seems like every day a new puzzle has found its way into the world. Some are great, some are really stupid and some are really only for the brightest sparks in the world. I’m a big fan of puzzles, always have been, but the Witness definitely takes the cake and gave me quite a good impression.
Simple, in the most complex way possible
The Witness begins the second you switch it on. No menu, no hub just you appearing in a dark cave with a light at the end of the tunnel. What lies at the end of a tunnel isn’t daylight, but actually a puzzle. To me, it looks like a chain door lock, the one where you slide the chain in. So when I first saw it, my instinct, as will yours be, to zone in on the puzzle and do what you’d do with a door chain lock. This is, in the simplistic way, pretty much what the puzzles are. Moving your courser through a maze to unlock the problem.
Initially, the first few will instruct you how the puzzles work. Not a single word is mentioned, nor are there any texts/hints to guide you. Everything is purely intuitive and cleverly presented. You’d have to be a complete moron not to figure out the early puzzles. Once you’re out in the open, you’ll see a wonderfully colourful – albeit slightly cartoonish – island that you know absolutely nothing about. Exploring it helps you, to a certain extent, understand what the place is. There’s no story to provide any form of context or understanding, just the puzzles that will hopefully lead you to the answer. So what do you do? Find the next board and hope it leads you to the next.
The further you get in a certain section, the tougher the puzzles become. And I’m not talking about bigger mazes, I’m talking about added rules and observational challenges. At first I was a bit disappointed the game only comprised of this one concept, but the way the developers managed to change and alter the formula is incredible and because of that, the puzzles never become tedious.
Overcoming obstacles and observations
In a nutshell, there are two types of puzzles: logic and observational. I love the observational puzzles as I think they’re more unique and inventive. I did not like the logic puzzles, I just really HATED the Tetris puzzles (I’ll explain in a bit.)
When tackling the observation puzzles, you need to seek any clues in your surroundings. See that crack in the wall – it’s probably a clue. The shadow on the rock – move around it. The way the grass curves – that’s the way you need to go. Almost anything in the environment can be a clue. Sometimes it’s staring at you in the face; other times it requires a little perspective and the right angle.
The logic/ brain puzzles, don’t have clues, just different rules within the puzzle board. Each area of the island covers one significant change in the rule of the puzzle. One section add colours (each colour needs a line separating it from another colour), another adds coloured circular stars (a more complicated version of the previous rule), so on and so forth. My least favourite one being what I call (and I suppose many others) the “Tetris puzzle.” In it, you need to solve the maze by creating a certain Tetris shape. I don’t know how others will take to it, but it REALLY frustrated me. I actually still don’t fully understand the rules behind it. It’s the only puzzle that I feel required a lot more detail in the instruction than the others.
An island full of surprises
Another brilliant factor in the game is the island itself. Not much is keeping you caged. Once you’re out of the initial “tutorial” zone, you’re free to explore the island as you see fit. Some parts are locked as you’ll need to solve puzzles to get through, but it remains largely open. Surprisingly, the island itself is a bit of a maze. It takes some brain juice to figure out how to get to certain areas, which is a brilliant nod to the game’s genre. Not only that, but there are hidden puzzles, that need to be solved using the area. They’re hard to spot and more often than not, requires you to be at a very specific place at the right angle to see it. It’s both cunning and well-executed.
I must add that I never actually heard music in the game. Sound effects are abundant and used to create a very life-like feel for such an animated looking game. I’m not sure why it wasn’t included, but I’m glad it wasn’t. It really feels like you’re stuck on an isolated island. Having music play in the background would almost ruin that sense of isolation and mystery.
The ease of the game allows you to leave one section – if a particular puzzle is bothering you – to explore another area to dampen your frustration. It often helped me when I got stuck. I’d go to another section and come back with fresh eyes.
SO. MANY. PUZZLES!
Another big surprise is just how big the game is. I solved many puzzles and there’s still so much more left to do and find! I completely lost count of the hours spent, but by the same token, I don’t think “completion time” will be the same for everyone. Oh, and that’s not including the time I spent contemplating puzzles while I was at work, in the shower, cooking…etc. It gets into your brain and refuses to leave until you solve them all. The game boasts over 600 puzzles and I completely believe it. I’ve solved so many yet I’m barely scratching the end. Every time you think you’re at the end, another section of puzzles opens up.
The Witness is an unbelievably addictive and challenging game. The ease of the controls mixed with the no-hands rule wins me over. However, the depth and complexity of such a simple puzzle concept is astounding and is easily the star quality of the game. It will challenge your mind, test your patience, prove your resilience and, more importantly, make you ask if that rose on the ground has anything to do with that puzzle.
I must warn you though, some puzzles are damn hard. The bulk of the puzzles I finished with ease, some required note-taking and others I simply admitted defeat.