The Witness

The Witness

I think The Witness is the most I’ve ever been absorbed by a game that I didn’t find particularly entertaining. The developer’s last game, Braid, helped kickstart a widespread realization that indie games would be an artistic powerhouse in the coming decade, and The Witness doubles down on Braid’s auteur qualities. The result is both endlessly brilliant and unbearably pretentious. The puzzles are an oddly detached affair centered on tracing a line through a grid to satisfy a variety of abstract conditions, like separating dots of different colours or including specific shapes in the path. The range and diversity of execution within this system is insane in both the sense that’s it’s very impressive and probably required a degree of insanity to create.

Instances where the puzzle is solved using information inferred from the surrounding environment, such as shadows or broken objects, are nothing short of mind-blowing. But such techniques require a baseline of normality to subvert, and the standard line-and-grid puzzles merely come off as quaint most of the time, to say nothing of the blatantly artificial difficulty of their later incarnations. On the other hand, the system also lays the foundation for a number of hidden environmental puzzles in which paths can be drawn on the world itself, revealing the full scope of the game’s madness. Once you’ve discovered puzzles hidden in the negative space between objects or within the setting’s own fast travel system, you’ll never look at anything the same way, and you’ll start to wonder just how deep this rabbit hole goes.

I’m oversimplifying to avoid spoilers, but the gist is that both the puzzles and the island exist for their own sake in an enforced “journey over destination” scenario, and to reinforce this, the full explanation is buried so deep that it’s practically an Easter egg. While Zen and introspection are by no means unattainable through video games, they’re more suited to something like an organic sandbox than a puzzle game. Here, deliberately withholding completion rewards and narrative closure just contributes to a sense of meaninglessness. Between that, the environmental puzzles, and the exquisite “living painting” visuals, I feel The Witness has pushed all of its best qualities into the background. Ambition and talent are interesting to observe even when misplaced, so this game still sits at the borders of recommendation, but with better aim, it could have been a classic.

6.5/10
6.5/10

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.