Ever since Portal came out, puzzle games were put to a high standard, not many able to achieve what Valve did so many years ago. But then, in early January, Braid creator Johnathan Blow put his talents towards a new IP, one that has the makings to be one of the best puzzle games ever released, The Witness. Character development and plot tend to be important parts to the video game experience, but The Witness did something that gives the game a refreshing, unique take. They don’t have it, and boy are we happy they don’t.
The game beings with no cut scene, no tutorial, just a start screen that puts you in the shoes of a faceless, voiceless being who we know exists solely due to his visible shadow. As you wander through the world you have no guidance besides the hundreds of interactive screens that populate this desolate island . The main mechanic to this title are the screens, as they contain one of dozens of different puzzle variations requiring you to create a path from A to B. Seems simple, the trick is creating the correct path out of the hundreds of combinations possible. Different symbols will appear throughout the game forcing you fulfil certain tasks while solving these puzzles, like grouping colors, segregating others, creating shapes or even a combination of all tasks. The game’s unique mechanics are only matched by its beautiful scenery. The colorful island is a treat to the eyes of the player, submerging their senses in a vibrant, alive yet vacant world.
As you progress you learn there are twelve unique locations on the island, each with their own set of puzzles. Difficulty will vary but without any tutorials and you will need to figure out everything on your own, through nothing but trial and error. One thing I learned early on is this game does not hold your hand. Players need to pay attention as the learning curve is fairly steep, The player will use visual and auditory clues placed throughout the game, leaving some of the hardest solutions hidden in plain sight. One of the most ingenious puzzles I encountered was the jungle section which had screens with a high middle and low path. Unbeknownst to me, there were birds chirping in the background. Little did I know the pitch of the chirp dictates the correct path on the screen. There were many moments of pure frustration as I progressed through, spending hours working on one puzzle, unable to find its solution. I would find myself at a stalemate until I saw the puzzle in a different light and all of a sudden it all clicked, and that’s what this game is about. That euphoric sensation of solving the puzzle, that moment of clarity when you realize you have figured out the problem and are able to progress further and boy is it a good feeling that this game delivers time and time again.
In conclusion, this game is a gem. There is nothing like it on the market. Each set of puzzles keep you on your toes and forces you to think outside the box if you want to progress on. We don’t know what happened, why the world is the way it is, why the character is there. The beauty of it is we don’t need to. You are drawn to completing this game without all the pieces we have become accustom to finding in every title we play. There are only so many ways I can put how I feel about this game on here but these reasons, as well as one of the greatest easter eggs in a modern video game in the form of a monologue from none other than Carl Sagan is why The Witness is one of my favorite games of 2016. Its noteworthy and unique gameplay, as well as its beautiful appearance and breathtaking sound, takes on a genre that is loved by the masses, turns it on it’s head and unknowingly creates the mother of all brain teasers.