All in all, this video game is for the real puzzle die-hards out there. It contains one particular kind of puzzle, with a great variety in where and how to find the solutions. With no tutorials and a need for a flexible and creative mind, as well as a logical and deductive one, The Witness is a guaranteed success for fans of its genre.
In 2014 I heard this puzzle masterpiece would come out for the PS4. I did not have the console back at that time, but I was sure I would have one by then. The style immediately appealed to me; it’s not realistic and doesn’t need it to be stylish and create that serene atmosphere. Finally, the game was there, I started playing the day it came out and was slightly disappointed. Even though the style was as I had expected it, the puzzles seemed (and are) so repetitive I found myself unable to play the game for more than an hour or so at the time. I have now played the game through thoroughly, and I can honestly say this insanely difficult puzzle game is definitely “something else”, and my feelings towards it remain somewhat ambiguous.
Let’s start off with pointing out something that contributes to its appeal. First of all, the puzzles in this game are extremely hard to solve sometimes. There are no tutorials; the player has to figure out for him or herself what the rules of the various puzzle elements are. Usually, you will find yourself learning these rules in the first two or three pieces of a long series of similar puzzles. It starts off pretty simple, but the puzzles get more difficult the more you progress.
There is a variety of areas that all contain their own kind of logic when it comes to puzzle solving. For instance, in one area you will have to decipher bird sounds, whereas other areas work through light and shadow play. This variety of logic, as well as the necessity to pay attention to your environment, is refreshing. Personally, that refreshment was more than welcome considering all the puzzles come down to the same thing: get your lines from A to B while obeying all the rules that symbols on the screens impose on you. Not all puzzles are environmental puzzles, some don’t use the environment at all and are just there to complete for progression.
If you are like me, the fact that the game is both taxing for your brain and concentration, as well as feeling somewhat repetitive after a while, makes you want to play The Witness over the course of a couple of weeks, rather than engaging in binge play.
The style is amazing in its simplicity. Of course, there is no account for taste; cel shading is not for everyone. That being said, the tranquility of this style mixes well with the trance-like state puzzle fans like me love to go into. The soft sounds of water streams, cave echoes and clashing of waves on the beach are there to add to that feel.
The philosophical twist to the game is on the one side interesting and intriguing, on the other hand, it can be a bit of a drag. The audio tapes are great as they usually contain a couple of minutes of text. However, I found one area was completely dedicated to a different medium; television. Near the windmill, there is an underground TV room with panels similar to puzzles. As I started to “solve” the puzzle, I noticed the whole thing is just a cinema with around two hours of video on it. Even though the videos fit the overall philosophical atmosphere of the game, it came across rather weak, or even insecure. After all, a video game is its own medium and should, in my opinion, look for ways to convey messages and stories without referring back to other conventional videos just to ‘make sure the message came across’. That being said, you can easily ignore them if you, like me, are not too fond of them.
On a last note, when you finish the game, you will be placed all the way back to the beginning of the game. This made it very inconvenient for me to get my last PS4 trophy for the platinum. So here’s a tip: don’t complete the last assignment in the mountain unless you are positive you have completed all the puzzles you wanted, or be prepared to do it all over again. Other than that, enjoy the many brain challenging hours up ahead.