At one point towards the end of The Witness I considered whether it might be the best game I've ever played. At a point not long prior to that I considered smashing the PS4, its controller, my TV and my face into a wall. My phone probably would have got it too, even though it only played a bit-part in the whole twisted charade.
This is what The Witness looks like to an observer:
This is what The Witness is like when you're playing it, when you're completely and utterly obsessed with every aspect of it:
The Witness is an incredible experience, so much so that at times I struggled to imagine how it had been put together. While it is, predominantly, a game in which you move a dot around a series of square panels, finding the correct path to the exit, the way in which it teaches you how to 'win' and takes the whole concept beyond an interactive puzzle magazine is astonishing. Individual parts are smartly designed, but as a whole it's a wonderful achievement.
Puzzle panels are housed within a gorgeous, surprisingly large and explorable world; a world that isn't only there as decoration. To say more would likely rob you of discovering the secrets that lie within The Witness. Being told how to solve an isolated random puzzle panel will lessen the sense of achievement in that moment, but also try to avoid bigger picture stuff as that is where the real 'Wow' moments come from. You might think this is a mega budget iOS game, but soon you'll realise there's a reason for the world in which the conundrums are placed, something smarter and more exciting than you're probably expecting.
Structurally, the game sees you trying to complete a specific set puzzles in a variety of zones (marshes, the keep, desert ruins, etc) in order to make progress towards the main goal. That sounds simple, but rather than having to complete puzzles A1 through A10 in order to unlock part of Goal X, it's more like having to learn from puzzles A1 through A5 in order to have a chance of completing puzzles A6 through A15, and unlock part of Goal X, which itself is another puzzle. You're learning new stuff all the time and it will probably hurt your brain.
Those puzzles themselves though are hugely moreish. Light bulb moments are plentiful, thankfully, doing away with feelings of despair and an insistence that what you're looking at is impossible to beat. It's perfectly possible to spend what seems like an eternity scratching your head in bemusement, walk away, then come back and find the solution (or a solution) almost immediately. The Witness, at least for me, is a terrifically difficult game, but never unfair or cruel.
Coming from Jonathan Blow, the man behind puzzle platformer Braid, it should be no surprise that The Witness isn't exactly as it seems. After a slow start (I'll admit that I wondered how such a simple-seeming game had taken so many years to make) the whole thing builds and builds until your mind has seemingly no space left. You have no quiet moments; Tetris shapes, black, white, green, blue, orange, grids, lines, are everywhere.
I'm so caught up inside the world of The Witness that it's hard to think about anything else: like Tetris, this is its true power, and it is one of the best games I've ever encountered. Playing The Witness is a real emotional rollercoaster, with flashes of anger, despondency, jubilation, awe, smugness and admiration. Who would have thought you could get all that from a game about drawing lines?
Version Tested: PS4
In the interest of full disclosure, Matthew Pellett, Editor of Official PlayStation Magazine, assisted me at various points while playing. In my defense, I solved many of the puzzles I was stuck on in the time it took for him to reply... honest. I expect talking to others while playing The Witness will be a necessity for many people, so I don't feel bad about this. I'm not a moron, OK!
10 / 10
- Gorgeous world
- Completely absorbing
- Incredibly smart game design
- Streamlined yet complex