REVIEW: The Witness - PS4
Updated: Aug 22
When they announced that a new game from the maker of Braid was coming I was pretty excited. Braid managed to be smart and use interesting mechanics in a variety of ways, all whilst putting together a sub-context being about the Manhattan Project (I didn’t get it either but it was a solid game nonetheless).
The previews of The Witness advised that the premise was a simple but intriguing one. You are alone on an island without memory and are left to explore and clearly to solve the numerous puzzles which litter the landscape. The puzzles themselves come with no instruction, none written in any case and involve you experimenting with what’s around you in order to find a solution. The rules and solutions are potentially different for each one. My mind was filled with the possibilities of having to interact in different ways, via mic or motion control etc. However that wasn’t to be the case…
It hasn’t lied in this statement however I wasn’t aware at this point that the puzzles themselves all have a similar format;
Essentially it’s get from point A to B without crossing lines and following specific rules which are hinted at in the symbols shown and the local environment (it is much more effective than this description makes it sound).
This carries true into the hidden puzzles in the environment where from the right angle a hole or a shadow will create a course for following. The puzzle aspect here is more to find the angle (and getting to it) which will let you complete the course unobstructed (rather than following rules).
It’s a title which you put an hour of your day into and only take baby steps forward. Initially you will be completing a couple of dozen puzzles in a session but as you progress these naturally become more difficult and time consuming. Of course there are plenty of places online that will tell you the solution, even ones which are “spoiler free” but given that it’s the whole games’ mechanics (and not like a minigame/sidequest) I’m loathed to water down my experience this way. If you’re happy to use a guide you might get more out of it but I imagine once you start looking things up the temptation mounts to do it again and then what’s the point?
You do have the option of trying another route if you get stuck. It’s an open island with non-linear progression (sort of). It’s a bit difficult to come back to puzzles you’ve missed however as the intentional lack of HUD and slightly cryptic pond showing your progress means you’re left unsure as to how far through each section you’ve made it.
Right now my gaming time is precious and I don’t find the prospect of such slow progress fulfilling. It’s true that there is a certain Dark Souls style sense of pride which comes with completing a particularly taxing part but I didn’t find that alone was enough.
The whole package to me feels similar to Oscar season. Certain movies are made for academy award status, for better or worse. I’m not a fan of 75% of these movies, however I appreciate what they are aiming for, it’s just not for me.
Were there some sort of companion app to allow me to complete any discovered puzzles in my own time I’d find the whole thing somewhat more appealing (indeed the puzzles would translate well to mobile devices, with exception of the environmentally sensitive ones).
I’ve completed circa 180 puzzles in order to write this review and It’s a shame as based on my stubborn nature (and questionable intelligence) I won’t get to see conclusion to the mystery as intended.
Sure there’s an element of the “it’s not you it’s me” attitude here but I can only recommend this to people with a penchant for puzzle solving and copious amounts of time on their hands. Maybe I’ll revisit this one in retirement.
There are those who are probably screaming at this right now (gotcha!) who will clearly think that “I didn’t get it”, to which I’d answer, probably not, clearly I’m not supposed to yet however the hook isn’t enough in my mind to warrant it. I’m a gamer and I like to play.
+ 4th Dimensional thinking!
+ Plenty to explore with a mystery to uncover
+ Sets out to do what it promises…
- …Unfortunately that’s for better and worse.
- Lots of questions which I doubt will be answered, why can’t I just look in a window and check who I am?
- (I’ll probably suffer for this) Just a bit boring…