The Witness PS4 review
I remember back in 2013 when Sony was showing off the PS4 for the first time at a press event, and one of the games they showed off was The Witness. While every other game at the event was trying to show off how many polygons they can render in the heat of action, this one was just a simple puzzle game with cel-shaded graphics and advertised itself as such. Little did I know that the game’s development started back in 2008 and was being lead by Jonathan Blow, known for his critically-acclaimed work Braid! Now I haven’t played Braid, but it doesn’t take a genius to figure out that The Witness is a much more different experience, but the core mechanic remains the same: solve the puzzles to progress.
The game begins in a tunnel with you playing as an unnamed protagonist. There is a puzzle which is simply a straight line that you fill in to open the door in front of you. Then there are more doors with similar puzzles that get moderately more difficult. This is how you learn to solve puzzles in The Witness, you figure it out yourself. Hand-holding is completely non-existent, when new elements to the puzzles are thrown into the mix, it’s up to you and you alone to figure out how it works, which can be really gratifying or extremely irritating depending on the puzzle and the location it’s in.
The Witness is set on a strange island reminiscent of the classic PC game Myst. It has lush, colorful environments that oddly contrast with one another. Right next to the desert, there is a forest leading to a castle next to a swamp pointing right to the snowy peak of a mountain. The islands inhabitants consist of statues in various positions; some in terror, others in a blissful state of ignorance. Creepy, huh? Whatever secrets this place holds, it looks like the only way I’ll find out about it is by solving the games 650 puzzles which could take up to 80 hours. You might think, “Oh, then I’ll just do the easy ones first.” Good luck, because this game does not take long to get hard.
My feelings about the difficulty range from me rage-quitting to admiring the strategy behind the designs. Most of the puzzles involve techniques incorporated into the mazes themselves, such as separating white blocks from black blocks or collecting dots before you get to the end. However, I mostly admire the ones that require you to look at the environment to help you out. In the desert area, there are mazes that don’t tell you where to go at all, that is until you adjust your placement to look at where it reflects off of the sun. To say I was impressed would be an understatement. I happily figured out the rest of the puzzles in that area until I got to the underground portion and became frustrated again.
What I find interesting (and confusing) are audio logs placed around the island. Normally you would think that they are meant to provide backstory and how a specific setting came to be. Not in this case. Instead, they are quotes from famous philosophers read by voice actors like Ashley Johnson and Phil LaMarr. Apparently they serve a purpose, but I have not found the reason as to how.
The Witness is not a game I could play for hours on end; it definitely requires a lot of thought and patience. Most people who’ve played, or currently play, this game usually devote 30 minutes to an hour and come back later, that way it isn’t so straining on the brain. Suddenly, the upcoming iOS version makes more sense now.
I love The Witness, and I pure, straight hate it at the same time. On one hand, it has some of the most genius puzzle design I’ve ever seen in a video game accompanied by gorgeous vistas adding to the challenge. On the other hand, it can get so strenuously difficult that my motivation to continue playing decreases. An hour-long session of Bloodborne feels easier than 30 minutes of this. Not to let the difficulty of this game deteriorate the quality, it’s just something to keep in mind if you’re on the fence about buying it. Puzzle game fans will have something to look forward to here, but if you’re more of an adventurer like me, you might want to journey elsewhere if you’re not up to the challenge.
Rating: 4/5 Atoms