‘The Witness’ Review

Platforms PlayStation 4/PC Platform Played PlayStation 4

Developer/Publisher Thekla Inc Genre Puzzle

The Witness is a beautiful and ingenious puzzler, offering some of the most visually vibrant locations and brain-melting puzzles I have experienced in recent memory. Despite these lofty heights, The Witness is hindered by a lackluster conclusion and some touchy controls.

The Witness begins with the player leaving a dark and gloomy tunnel, finding themselves stranded on a deserted island. Upon beginning my journey I found myself genuinely anxious to travel across the island, a sense of unknown fear I haven’t felt since Gone Home; however it doesn’t take long to turn from frightened castaway to sole owner of this beautiful land. Your task is to complete a series of puzzles located in different sections of the island, with each section sending a beam of light directed towards the towering mountain at the far side of this vast landmass.

The Witness is a one trick pony in the greatest sense. The Witness is built for players that love to have their puzzle abilities challenged, and it doesn’t try to be anything else along the way; in this sense The Witness greatly delivers. Puzzles in The Witness are based around maze-like panels, where players must reach from one point to another in a specific way. At first The Witness seems easy enough and the format basic, but it doesn’t take long for The Witness to crank up the difficulty with a large variety of different rules added to the basic maze premise. Some of these include, controlling two points at one time, splitting certain colours from one another, or tracing along a designated path. While these are all basic to understand at first, The Witness exponentially increases the challenge, forcing players to comprehend multiple rules within each puzzle.

The Witness is the first puzzle game in a long time to make me draw puzzles by hand, in order to fully comprehend the task in front of me. Generally the puzzles themselves are not too difficult. However each particular set of puzzles has its own rule, for instance seeing a certain block on a panel may mean that shape must be implemented into the solution. Finding out these rules is easily the hardest aspect of The Witness, as there are no explanations. Even the tutorial sections can easily leave you scratching your head trying to determine the common denominator. Trial and error is key. There were many times where I found myself unable to advance, which forced me to stop my progress and venture elsewhere to continue learning the rules and solutions to puzzles. Returning to a puzzle that bested you previously, only to complete it within one shot, is as adrenaline filled as any action game available.

It is a shame that the PlayStation 4 version suffers from some touchy controls when navigating puzzles. There were countless times when I wanted my cursor to manoeuvre certain paths, only to have the cursor completely ignore my actions or rapidly find it on the other side of my desired location. These controls become an issue during instant reset puzzles, which will clear the progress you made on a previous panel; in what can only be described as cruelty in the first degree. Seeing a puzzle you spent dozens of minutes on be reset is frustrating, especially when that previous solution may now have slipped your mind. Having only reviewed the PlayStation 4 release, I am unable to comment if the PC version has the same control problems.

It should be noted that those suffering from colour blindness, or hearing issues may find The Witness hard to enjoy. There are certain locations that require greatness in both areas, which may be hard for some to complete. This is certainly something to consider upon purchase.

One particular set of puzzles I genuinely enjoyed were the challenges that incorporated the environment itself into its solution. For instance, perhaps a particular pathway cannot be found. Positioning yourself at a certain angle may incorporate pieces of the environment in order to give perspective to the solution. This can even relate to puzzles that require you to position yourself in the correct location in order to trace objects in the background in order to find the solution. These challenges were incredibly intricate and had me thinking outside the box in order to proceed. There are even grander challenges to complete that will require hours of thought which are set aside from the main task of directing lights towards the mountain. These puzzles offer even more challenge to those who bested the required brainteasers needed to see the conclusion.

The island that The Witness takes place upon is genuinely beautiful, with vibrant colours and various environments scattered throughout. These environments range from a barren desert, a lush jungle and even a treetop village. Each area is gorgeously covered in a vast variety of bright colours, producing one of the most picturesque deserted islands I have ever seen. The Witness also includes some excellent audio, and I truly recommend playing with a great set of headphones. Hearing the slight alterations in pitch as I wandered down a tunnel or the slight change in tone when I walked on metal produced a grand sense of atmosphere. Though The Witness is also devoid of all music, the subtle audio changes make for some amazingly atmospheric moments.

My mind constantly began to hypothesise the story behind The Witness. Who created these puzzles? Was I inside an experiment? And would I be able to find the person behind the curtain? Unfortunately, this is one of The Witness’s biggest flaws, as these questions all but ignored throughout the experience. Though hidden audio logs talk about grand topics such as science, religion and general famous quotes, there is almost zero explanation as to how it relates to your predicament. I have loved interpreting grand stories for myself previously (Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture) but there must be some sense that the information given builds towards a satisfying conclusion; which unfortunately The Witness once again fails to deliver. Upon completing some of the most difficult puzzles I have ever experienced, The Witness’s conclusion left me genuinely underwhelmed and unsatisfied.

The Witness is easily one of the most memorable puzzle games I have ever played, containing some of the most intricate and well thought out puzzles I have ever faced. Though some touchy PlayStation 4 controls and a disappointing conclusion dampened my overall enjoyment, I cannot deny The Witness is one of the most well developed puzzle titles available on PlayStation 4.

The Witness is not for everyone, but those who do find a way to best these headache-inducing puzzles will experience one of the most memorable gaming journeys of 2016.

The Good

  • Intricately designed puzzles.
  • Environmental puzzles.
  • Beautiful visuals and well implemented audio.

The Bad

  • Disappointing ending.
  • Touchy PS4 controls.

The Score: 8.0