Originally published on Trevor Trove on February 4, 2016
TL; DR(eview) – Set on a beautifully vibrant island, The Witness has hundreds of puzzles that will drive you insane. But when they click and then make you feel like a genius, you’ll be enjoying one of the finest puzzle games ever created in any medium.
In the years since The Witness was first announced, it has always been one of cases where I knew the name, but virtually nothing else about the case. Not because I was actively avoiding details or anything, it just never really popped onto my radar. Until a couple weeks ago, that is, when its price was announced a week before launch and then when seemingly everyone was blown away by the game. So I picked it up and dove in. And 482 panels later, I feel like a freaking genius!
Like many reviews out there I’ll avoid getting into “spoilers” (i.e. not discuss specifics around the puzzles themselves).
The Witness begins very unceremoniously. You start a new game from the menu and are immediately found within a tunnel in the game. The game gives you the slightest of tutorial areas where you effectively learn to move and the most basic of the game’s puzzle mechanics: that every puzzle starts with a circle and ends with a semi-circle nub. Other than that, the game trusts you to explore, learn, and discover the islands secrets.
When new puzzle mechanics are introduced, they’re almost always done so with a small series of puzzles designed to teach you this new language you’re going to need. If you’ve found a puzzle with a whole bunch of symbols foreign to you, you might be better off walking away and looking for the training on another part of the map. And if you’re like me, you might run into a wall on some of these puzzles and think there’s no possible way to solve it after hours, only to walk away from it, return a day later, and solve it on the first attempt this time.
Growing up, I spent hours upon hours working on various brain teasers and puzzles in my school’s gifted program classes. As I made my way through The Witness, those memories and feeling of accomplishment as a solved a puzzle I found particular clever were incredibly well-replicated. And I was incredibly grateful for that personal sense of pride because one of the game’s few shortfalls is that it breaks away from the convention of player reward. In the same way that it doesn’t hold your hand, it also doesn’t give you a pat on the back.
Perhaps the games biggest puzzle (at least the one that has left me the most confused), is actually its scattered audio and video logs. Occasionally, I found them a bit interesting, but mostly, I was just left wondering what they really added to the game and they merely served as something to listen to as I wandered around looking for the next puzzle to solve.
Lastly, while I won’t tell you to avoid searching out solutions online, I will emphasize that I felt like I had an incredibly rich experience myself by avoiding wikis and guides and relying on my own mind and trusting that the game was giving me all the tools I needed to advance.
Also, I am incredibly grateful that I still had a notepad of graph paper that one of my friends gave me a few years back.