Fun from frustration. A concept not easily executed, but in the case of The Witness, it’s the bread and butter. The Witness had my mind racing and patience to points of pure exhaustion, all in a surprisingly satisfying way. From lush, beautiful landscapes and foliage to the crystal clear sound design, difficulty is not The Witness’ only strong suit. Some missing key components hold The Witness back from being a nearly perfect experience. Lack of any hints, clues, tutorials, or even plot, too often halted my playtime and completely had me in the dark. Although rewarding, this may prevent The Witness from being loved by many, to being loved by some.
Developed by Thekla, Inc. and created by Jonathan Blow, The Witness carries the same level of quality and care as the previous successful titles from his resume. The Witness is a 3D first person puzzler that shows no mercy to brain teasing. Let me say with no hesitation this is probably the hardest game I have ever played. More importantly, it’s the hardest game I have ever played and still liked. It hosts the most creative and unique solutions to puzzles I have ever seen. Nothing is off-limits. Using the environment, memory, even sounds around you, Blow constructed a relentless labyrinth of enigmas.
You begin by emerging onto an abandoned island, with no footing or grasp on your purpose there. Using the intelligence of the player, you soon discover that solving the many puzzles laid before you will unlock more of the island. You still don’t know why, where, or how, and this remains to be one of my biggest gripes with The Witness. There is such a missed opportunity in its storytelling. The story is implied, never told. For a game that’s as punishing as it is, most players would like an incentive to keep going. At times it can feel too desolate. An unsavory note to mention is the zero assistance it provides. I understand being a glutton for difficulty, but to not include ANY hints, clues, or tutorials for a game like this just comes across as a low blow and misstep. I love this game and think all players should experience it, but the barrier to entry may have been made too high.
The Witness delivers a knockout in its presentation. The graphics are absolutely gorgeous. You take in a visual freshness and fidelity that other titles should strive to attain. It’s loud, bombastic colors blanket the island. From the rich, bountiful greenery, to the cool blue swelling waters, The Witness simply put, is a pretty game. It never attempts to achieve photo realism and is still somehow one of the best looking games I’ve seen this generation with its unique paint-style approach.
The feel and controls of The Witness are delivered in a very smooth and easy layout. Although there aren’t many inputs, what is there plays flawlessly. You have your twin sticks for standard FPS movement, a sprint button, and an action button for initiating and completing puzzles, and that’s it. This is ok though and actually plays to the strengths for the type of game The Witness is. In a game where the raw difficulty is cranked, the last thing you need is to be fumbling around an over-populated control layout.
While there is no voice-over work or score, the audio still speaks volumes. The sounds of the sticks and twigs snapping and cracking under your feet make it feel as if I was walking on the ground myself. The distinct noises of grass rustling and cushioning your every step assists in making The Witness feel like they brought the island to you. There was no need for a booming orchestra, or a character to deliver dialogue. The setting was alive enough already. In terms of sound design, less is more with The Witness.
The Witness is a beacon of light in the puzzle/platformer genre. It separates itself form the crowd with a unique look and feel, and a no mercy difficulty. The progression feels rewarding after conquering countless intricate mind-busting puzzles put in your path. The feeling of hopelessness when you are stumped, will pale in comparison to the inner celebration and pride after completing the most daunting of puzzles. Sadly with no assistance from clues, tutorials, or hints, it can be downright harsh at times. I wouldn’t recommend this to all gamers, but for those brave souls ready for a challenge, The Witness’ island awaits you.
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