The Witness Review

Written by Rick Lane

March 4, 2016 | 09:59

Tags: #braid #jonathan-blow #the-witness

Companies: #thekla-inc

The other particularly satisfying element of The Witness is how so many of the puzzles are interconnected - often literally. Many puzzles are joined together by wires which glow once you solve the maze it leads away from, and these act as navigational hints across the island. Some puzzles can only be accessed by solving a sequence of mazes beforehand, while others might reveal the solution to a puzzle that previously confounded you. There are several groups of "main-sequence" puzzles that all lead to the same climactic events, namely the activation of a laser which shoots toward the centre of the island.

The Witness Review

When you get into this wonderful rhythmic flow of solutions, The Witness is a delightful experience. Sometimes, the mazes are taken out of those two-dimensional planes, and become 3D objects in the word itself. At the centre of the map is a castle wherein there are literal hedge-mazes that incorporate traversal through them into the solution. As always, they aren't simple "find the exit" mazes either, they establish their own rules, evolve in complexity, and subvert your expectations. Unfortunately, these are followed by a second set of mazes which contain far less elegant solutions. Although they are vastly in the minority, The Witness has its fair share of puzzles whose solutions induce eye-rolling rather than satisfaction upon resolution.

One of my biggest concerns prior to playing The Witness was that it would prove too arch for us mere mortals, and although I encountered a few puzzles requiring a logical leap that simply didn't occur to me, it certainly isn't a game that demonstrates a contempt for those trying to play it. On a structural level at least, The Witness is a game that wants to be solved; all it requests of the player is a desire to explore and learn. Most mazes that don't show their requirements through icons on the screen will give clues to the solution within the immediate vicinity. Sometimes the solution is literally right in front of you.

The Witness Review

As a puzzle game, The Witness is hands down one of the best you'll ever play. But in terms of the broader mystery of the island itself, this is where problems emerge. As with the game's approach to mazes, there are countless environmental hints that suggest a history to the island, such as buildings which exist in a state of semi ruin, stone sculptures posed in very specific ways, secret audio logs that quote from great works of literature. There's even an underground cinema which plays an eclectic variety of archive footage exploring grandiose ideas like the importance of the scientific method. Unlike the mazes, however, the connections between these things are far less evident

If The Witness has a broader message, a more human solution to its scattered environmental clues, then it isn't one that was clear to me. In fact, I eventually began to wonder whether The Witness is particularly interested in that side of things at all. It's an issue that is reflected in the environment art. Visually, The Witness is a beautiful game, a giant, colourful garden of vibrant waters and verdant woods, vivid coastlines and startlingly white deserts. But it's also distinctly artificial. There's nothing organic about the island's layout, and it is almost entirely devoid of movement or animation. As appealing to the eye as the game may be, it also has this eerie sense of un-life about it, as if the island has been exquisitely preserved by some unknown, sterilising disaster.

The Witness Review

In the end, the overriding feeling I got from The Witness is that people are an inconvenience, and all of its artsy ambiguity is intended to distract Internet sleuths and critics like myself while the game gets on with the far more important job of PUZZLES EVERYWHERE. I could be wrong, and there might well be a deep-rooted significance in every one of The Witness's meticulously posed statues and cryptic audio-logs. But either way, it's clear the game cares little about whether or not the player comprehends them.

I don't mind that. The Witness doesn't have to mean anything at all. But to hint at answers without ultimately providing one seems antithetical to the game's design in other areas. In the end, The Witness is a fine workout for your left hemisphere, but you might need to give your right hemisphere a bit of a prod once it's over.

The Witness Review

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