The Witness is quite a puzzling, strange little game, as to be expected from Jonathan Blow, the man behind Braid, a past award-winning indie great that, along with Super Meat Boy and others, kickstarted almost the entire indie gaming craze of the past few years.
Unlike Braid though, The Witness tackles an entirely different genre, feeling more akin to the exploration-based adventure games of old, particularly Myst. Indeed, the two games have much in common, and at first glance, seem nearly identical in concept. You’re dropped immediately on an island, with little to no context, and left to roam free, solving puzzles and unraveling the island’s mysteries.
The island in question, the mysterious world that The Witness brings you to, is easily the highlight of the game. It’s positively beautiful, with breathtaking scenery, amazing atmosphere, bright colors, and a few… unnerving statues. We won’t talk about those too much though. Spoilers are truly an awful thing.
The sheer amount of variety in the island’s various environments is astounding though, and every last one of them is a joy to explore and even just to stand and look at. Every time you reach a new area, you’re sure to spend a few minutes just staring at the scenery in awe. Unfortunately though, the actual process of unlocking these new areas can be fairly tedious.
That’s where The Witness falls fairly flat in comparison to the vast majority of puzzle games. The Witness suffers from what I personally refer to as Layton Syndrome, wherein, much like with the Professor Layton games, in order to progress the story (or exploration in the case of The Witness) that you may be engrossed in, you’ll frequently be halted by mandatory puzzles that you MUST solve to progress.
In the Professor Layton games though, the puzzles have at least enough variety to stay unique and fun all the way through. In The Witness, literally (no joke) every single puzzle has the exact same concept: guide lines through a grid in a specific pattern, which is (usually) cryptically hidden in mysterious symbols either scatter across the grid or the world, which you have to figure out and discover yourself. Some of these puzzles are wonderful things, like one in particular that requires you to filter the terminals the puzzle grids are displayed on through colored glass in the room in order to see the symbols. That’s cool. A lot of these are cool. For a while.
Ultimately, the issue with The Witness is the occasional tedium and repetitive nature of the puzzles. For every unique, cool puzzle there is, there’s ten more that are generic repeats of each other with different line solutions. Because most of them are just located on terminals too, they can be awfully immersion breaking, especially when you’re in the middle of exploring a cool environment, only to come across a terminal in the middle of nowhere, demanding that you comply with its demands or explore no longer.
The one true grievance of this game though, the truly unforgivable thing, is that if you are color blind, or if you are hearing impaired, you literally cannot solve a medium-sized chunk of puzzles in the game. I’m not exaggerating. There is no options that fix this either. No color blind mode, nothing.
In the end though, The Witness is okay. The island really is a joy, but the actual core gameplay, the puzzles involved, are fairly repetitive and again, I must stress this, can potentially be impossible if you are color blind or hearing impaired. If you’re looking for a game about pure exploration, you may enjoy The Witness, but I suggest you go elsewhere unless you’re really into maze puzzles. If you’re looking for a good puzzle game, The Witness may scratch that itch, but is best play in bursts, so that the puzzles do not grate on you with their identical concepts.
If you’re colorblind… Well… you might be out of luck, unless a colorblind mode is patched in later.