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    The Witness

    Game » consists of 7 releases. Released Jan 26, 2016

    An exploration-focused puzzle-adventure game led by the creator of the 2008 indie game Braid. While exploring a quiet but colorful island, players must solve a series of maze-like puzzles on numerous electronic puzzle consoles.

    jaypb08's The Witness (PC) review

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    Worth the Wait

    No one has ever really made a game like The Witness before. Its influences may be somewhat obvious (Myst), but the particular way The Witness is structured is nothing short of intriguing. Never before have I found myself writing random stuff on a piece of paper, or even editing screenshots in Paint just to work out the in-game tribulations. With a composition that is nothing short of unique and unforgettable, The Witness is an exemplary title in the art of pristine level design.

    Let’s travel back almost a full eight years to the release of Braid. Braid was creator Jonathan Blow’s first game, solely developed by himself with the exception of a few hired assets. Back in 2008, Braid almost single-handedly marked the rise of Indie games that has only gained steam since, and Jonathan Blow began conceptual ideas on his next game immediately upon its apparent success. However, this game would not utilize the side-scrolling mechanic that Braid used, but it would be yet another complex puzzle game. The game would instead be developed in a three-dimensional engine, focusing on player perception and non-linear approaches. His framework would be the 1993 classic Myst, a game that drew Blow into game development in the first place, but his goal with his next game would be the correct the aimless nature of that game’s most prevalent issue.

    Jonathan Blow used all of his revenue that he obtained from the success of Braid, which totaled around $4 million, into the development of The Witness. Work immediately went into the project the following year after Braid’s release, with an official announcement coming in 2010 for the general public, but it would take almost six years for the actual title to be released. The Witness saw what was perhaps the most delays for a game I’ve ever seen, as the game was approaching vaporware on the levels of The Last Guardian, Half-Life 3, and Duke Nukem Forever. I remember when this game was due to come out in 2012, in 2013 as launch title for the PS4, for sure in 2014, and definitely in 2015; but all of it was to no avail. Also, keep in mind that all of this was riding off the success of Braid. Granted, I think Braid is one of the greatest games ever made, so that notion isn’t without merit, but we knew next to nothing about The Witness during that entire time. The Witness would finally be released on January 26, 2016, but on January 25, all we really knew was that it was a 40-hour puzzle game. Now that we know that even that myth has been busted, was it worth the wait and being left in the dark for so long? Absolutely.

    You are an unknown and silent protagonist, in the middle of a mysterious island. The island itself is distributed into separate elemental partitions; from a heating desert to tropical regions. No one else is with you here, but the overall draw of the island isn’t what is already there, it’s what’s been left behind. This world is pervasive with artifacts of a past civilization, and the purposely leaves you to figure out what exactly they’ve left for you to discover. However, I found myself torn on the world narratives The Witness is trying to achieve. The main reason being that this game succumbs to using audio logs, a form of storytelling that I feel has been overused and is rarely beneficial (with the lone exceptions being BioShock and BioShock Infinite). That said, the voice-acting was always top-notch and the writing was intricate. I’ll be the first to admit that its message on humanity and personal fulfillment went a bit over my head at times, especially considering I never got all these things, but I never got a sense that this approach was even necessary. Maybe once you got more of them it all came together in some very interesting ways, but where I am right now just makes me feel lost in what exactly this world was trying to convey to me.

    On the flip side of its world, The Witness manages to explain its entire gameplay concept in mere seconds of starting the game. Every puzzle will begin and end with you drawing lines on panels. While that may seem boring and tedious on the outset, The Witness absolutely utilizes this to its advantage. Nothing is as what initially meets the eye, and the game is literally demanding of using a variety of your senses to accomplish each scenario. Sometimes it may adhere to the environment around you or it may just be a simply logical answer; what makes it all work out is that it’s all up to you. Technically, you are physically able to solve everything on the island from the start, as the only thing that progresses is your actual knowledge. I found myself absolutely awestruck at the ways The Witness successfully managed to gradually teach me its advanced concepts, all without the aid of any intrusive dialogue or tutorial portions.

    While The Witness is no doubt an open-world adventure game, I oddly found some striking similarities with what is generally called the “Metroidvania” genre. After the opening area, you are completely free to roam about the island, and as such you’ll come across portions that have puzzle situations that you won’t have the faintest idea how to solve until much later. I like to think that pure knowledge replaces traditional item pick-ups in that case, as you will no doubt find yourself encountering areas that you can’t proceed until you personally understand how to solve it. The game doesn’t explain the mechanics, it teaches you them; which is a very significant distinction that should be made. Rounding the island full circle after hitting a personal revelation on how to solve a puzzle from hours ago, is nothing short of satisfactory. You don’t even have to solve every single section of the island, which was a rather interesting approach to the design, letting the player solve only what they are comfortable with in the moment. However, these parts occasionally were regrettably interrupted. Sometimes when going about a series of panels, you’ll probably get an occasional one incorrect. Not usually a bad thing, as trial and error would be inevitable, but the game would sometimes shut it down given specific scenarios, which was always annoying. I understand that Jonathan Blow wants to avoid players brute forcing the puzzles, but this lone aspect always proved to be irritating.

    The puzzles themselves should not be underestimated, as The Witness is a fairly difficult game because of the sheer advancement the logic sometimes requires. The final area of the game in particular is brutal, and took me close to six hours alone on just a few of the last puzzles of the game. Some of these will undoubtedly urge you to edit screenshots in paint or even start writing down notes on paper, which is nothing but a sign of intricate design to these various situation. Despite the difficulty of the game, solving almost every puzzle was one of the most rewarding sensations a game has given me in quite awhile. It’s the game’s achievement of the “A ha!” moment that I can’t stress enough was something truly special, and I’m not convinced another game will be able to repeat that feeling anytime soon.

    Look at The Witness, because it carries one of the highest quality art-styles on the market. The use of colors and design here is nothing short of complex, and if it wasn’t for Cuphead releasing later this year, I’d say it would undoubtedly be the best looking game of the year. It is important to know that The Witness is not solely developed by Jonathan Blow like Braid essentially was, and the game’s custom engine accompanied by this outstanding art direction exemplifies this. However, the one thing that did disappoint me in this title is the lack of music. For the most part, you’re walking in almost dead silence, with the only noise coming from your very footsteps. I understand the distilled nature they were going for, but after ten hours, I did wish there was a tad more going on in the background of everything.

    Is The Witness better than Braid? No, while the puzzles may be more intellectual and the very composition is very ambitious, it lacks the concise nature of Braid. That’s not a criticism of The Witness though, because it’s still a title that’s absolutely ingenious. However, keep in mind that this game is not for everyone. Some people may not like the very concept of the puzzles, some may find the storytelling to be a bit preachy, and some may not like the time commitment it requires to complete. I must say though, if you find yourself drawn to The Witness in any way, I can guarantee you that you’ll be absolutely engrossed in this game. It may have been a longtime coming for The Witness after such a long development procedure, but it was definitely worth the wait.

    Other reviews for The Witness (PC)

      Video Review - The Witness 0

      Thekla, Inc's The Witness represents 7 years of work from indie game visionary Jonathan Blow and the work shows. The game is incredibly beautiful, dense, and complex. While that density and complexity can become overbearing at times, there is still plenty to appreciate in The Witness. For more information, check out the VIDEO REVIEW....

      2 out of 2 found this review helpful.

      The Witness: Another great puzzle game from the mind of Jonathan Blow 0

      If you want to be "rewarded" from completing puzzles turn back. A routine complaint I've seen of this game is that there is no reward for completing the puzzles, and in a sense that is correct. If you enjoy puzzles for there own sake this is a game for you.The puzzles, in essence, are incredibly simple. There is a starting and ending point on a panel. You must drag a line to the ending point. Puzzle complete. This, however, is quickly complicated with new caviots and rulesets which are never exp...

      1 out of 1 found this review helpful.

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