I figured I'd share it with you guys and see what you think. Any positive/negative feedback is appreciated.
Review: The Witness
Developed by: Thekla, Inc.
Reviewed on: PS4
Also available on: PC
“I don’t want to make games for Metacritic,” said game designer Jonathan Blow to The Guardian this January, “I want to make games for people who like to read Gravity’s Rainbow.”
One need not read Thomas Pynchon’s dense 1973 novel to understand Blow’s point: he wants to make games with deeper messages and more complex themes than gamers are used to.
The Witness, Blow’s follow up to his critically acclaimed 2007 indie game Braid, mostly accomplishes this goal. Where Braid laid the foundation for modern indie gaming, The Witness takes a bold step forward for the genre, exploring nonlinear storytelling and philosophical themes rarely found in video games.
You wake up on a deserted island with no information as to who or where you are, or what happened to the inhabitants of the island. Your only hope of piecing things together is exploring the island and solving increasingly difficult and frustrating sets of puzzles, which are fairly simple in design: you draw a line through a maze while also meeting a set of requirements.
Foregoing realism for a more stylized approach, the island of The Witness is beautifully crafted. From rolling green hills, to a sprawling desert, to a forest in the middle of autumn, the island’s diverse environments offer some pleasant vistas should you choose to take a moment and absorb your surroundings.
It’s a shame then, that most of the game is spent staring into flat panels, and drawing a line across a grid.
Scattered throughout the island are what appear to be the remnants of its inhabitants, frozen in place as stone statues, reminiscent of the citizens of Pompeii post-Vesuvius.
Also present on the island are audio recordings of what are presumably these inhabitants quoting historical figures like philosophers, astronauts and even Saint Augustine of Hippo.
Along with a handful of clips from various films and documentaries, the recordings don’t seem to share a common theme.
Piecing them together and figuring out their messages concerning the futility of seeking ultimate truths, the temporary nature of any and all of humanity’s accomplishments, or the ease at which people accept art as opposed to science is one of the more rewarding aspects of The Witness.
To say any more would not only spoil the game, but ruin the intended experience of it; it is up to the player to piece everything together on their own.
The Witness is not a game that is willing to, or even interested in, holding your hand. There is no tutorial level to speak of, the island’s sections vary wildly in difficulty with no proper way to go about solving their puzzles, and the requirements the player must meet to solve each puzzle are not explained in any conventional way.
Several times throughout my play through, I thought I had figured out the rules of a particular set of puzzles, only to find that I had it completely wrong. This forced me to go back to previous puzzles and reexamine them, trying to find a pattern.
The game can be incredibly frustrating, often forcing me to stop playing for a few hours and cool off after spending the last hour cursing Jonathan Blow and everything he’s ever done. That frustration, however, forced me to challenge my own thinking and discover solutions I wouldn’t have otherwise considered.
The only gripe I have with the game concerns the gameplay itself. The entire “game” portion of The Witness consists of the aforementioned panels and drawing lines across grids.
While the puzzles are certainly more complex than this may seem, owing to the different rules and requirements needed to solve each puzzle, gamers were promised over 500 puzzles. The reality, that there were over 500 variations on the same puzzle, was pretty disappointing.
Overall, however, The Witness is far greater than the sum of its parts. Even video games celebrated for their stories rarely offer themes any deeper than the latest Hollywood blockbuster, or YA fiction novel.
It is even more rare for a videogame to utilize the nonverbal, nonlinear, interactive medium of video games to communicate these themes in a refreshingly unconventional way.
Its message is one I am still contemplating, and I can’t think of another game I can say that about.
We rate this 4 out of 5.