As I have done previously with the release of Fallout 4, I have compiled some popular gaming site’s reviews of The Witness. Hopefully these snapshots give a feel for the game on the whole, and provide an easy list of the reviews so far.
If you are not familiar with The Witness, it is an open world puzzle game in the vein of Myst. The player explores the lonely island, solving up to 650+ puzzles on either PC or PS4.
The game was created by Jonathan Blow of Braid fame. Interestingly, Blow financed the development of The Witness with his own money from the success of Braid. Further, he began development in 2008, therefore dumping a lot of financial risk into this project. It looks like the game is meeting its high expectations given the reviews.
The Escapist: 4/5
The Witness is a beautiful, brain-tickling, “puzzle-adventure,” that will manage to both frustrate and awe you at the same time.
PS Nation: 8/10
We are looking at the height of contemporary game development genius. Akin to Stephen Sondheim and Lin-Manuel Miranda from the world of American Musical Theater or Stephen King or Martin Scorsese. These are artists whose works are accessible but can also contain a bitterness which challenges.
Time, money and people are all things that can muddy the waters when it comes to game development, and The Witness has had more of all three poured into it than Braid did. It’s remarkable, then, that Blow has created a game that initially seems so completely unlike its forebear, but with the same kernel at the centre of it.
I admire a lot about The Witness. It is a beautiful game. It is a clever game. It is a big game. But all of its elements, mazes, exploration, and philosophy didn’t really come together to express some greater theme. Unless I was meant to question why I hurt my brain to solve a series of difficult mazes for no real award.
I’m so caught up inside the world of The Witness that it’s hard to think about anything else: like Tetris, this is its true power, and it is one of the best games I’ve ever encountered. Playing The Witness is a real emotional rollercoaster, with flashes of anger, despondency, jubilation, awe, smugness and admiration. Who would have thought you could get all that from a game about drawing lines?
PlayStation LifeStyle: 9/10
There’s a sad truth, and it’s that most people who play The Witness will not get a pure experience. We live in a day when it is far too easy to get mildly frustrated after a couple of minutes trying and failing to solve a puzzle. It’s hard to say myself if I wouldn’t have given in to the temptation of checking a solution online if I hadn’t been playing before the official release.
Game Revolution: 5/5
For how much of these observations sound like complaints, I am actually just more intrigued. In fact, I found myself obsessed with The Witness. For every new revelation about a solution or discovery of some out-of-place amusement, I was drawn deeper into figuring it all out. Indeed, there are some puzzles, which you can ostensibly solve just for the sake of doing so, but I would. Like a trigger, I’d just solve anything in front of me, not knowing what the game wants or even what I’m witnessing.
Hardcore Gamer: 4/5
On the PlayStation 4, The Witness lacks the option to close the game without having to head back to the dashboard and force close the application using the Options button. The console version lacks any semblance of sound options, most notably a way to adjust in-game volume without having to move outside of the application. The most frustrating omission is a camera sensitivity adjustment option, which is compounded by the PS4 version’s sluggish right stick responsiveness. Few fixable issues have a way of feeling more awkward than having your view feel exponentially slower than your movement. The hope here is that Thekla, Inc. will sacrifice the pause menu’s bare bones aesthetic in favor of patching in some of the settings that gamers have come to expect over the years.
There are still things about The Witness I can’t make sense of–some clues I might never notice, and some puzzles I might never solve. But the hints are there. It might not all be clear at first, but that’s okay, because I’m always learning.
That said, I doubt I’ll be heading back in for a completionist run. It’s a beautiful game and knowing that I finished it with minimal help actually does make me feel smarter. It also contains some subtle messages about human potential that I found surprisingly uplifting (when I wasn’t pulling my hair out). Despite feeling deeply satisfied by the experience, it’s hard for me to ignore how much time I spent frustrated and bored and angry. Maybe contrasting those two ends of the emotional spectrum is essential to the experience of playing The Witness, but an era when they can skip the frustration, I’m not convinced most players will have the patience to obtain it.
Game Informer: 9.25
The opaque world might be disappointing for some players, but The Witness is about a different kind of discovery. It steers your mind in unconventional directions, and makes you feel clever as you build on your knowledge and uncover new layers about the game’s language and logic. Even when I wasn’t playing it, I was thinking about puzzles that had me stumped. Some puzzles are tough, but all of them are fair, and the fun of solving them is only topped by seeing what awaits you on the next series of monitors.
The Witness has a power and pull that carried me throughout the more than 40 hours it took to complete it for the first time, and that, even now, beckons me back to confront the mysteries I left unsolved. Its graceful combination of tangible goals, obscurity, and freedom creates ample opportunity for small victories and grand revelations alike. For the most part, its themes weave themselves beautifully throughout the gorgeous world and wide variety of puzzles, but even when it breaks subtlety in favor of a more heavy-handed approach to exposition, it never detracts from the truly fulfilling moments The Witness offers in terms of solving its physical puzzles and unlocking its deepest mysteries.
PC Gamer: 89
You’re left with a mirror-tunnel of allusions and surmises that is undeniably thought-provoking, but may daze and annoy as many players as it beguiles. Mind you, it’s perhaps to the purpose that you’re asked to make sense of it all. I introduced The Witness as a teaching machine, but I suspect Blow’s agenda is to collapse the master-student relationship, equipping you with the tools and insights you need to approach the game’s sources of inspiration on your own terms. The Witness might be constructed around mechanical challenges with unambiguous outcomes, but as the choice of title implies, what it ultimately seeks to offer is a vantage point, a perspective on life’s mysteries, rather than answers.
Taken as a whole, The Witness makes a statement about the lovely balance of knowing and not knowing. Yes, this is a puzzle game, and you’ll be driven to find solutions to puzzles. You may wish that you, too, could email its designer and ask what you’re doing wrong. It is somehow pleasing, though, to play this game while stumped, to let go of the need for satisfaction and victory.
Giant Bomb – 5/5
It’s hard to believe nearly eight years have passed since Braid came along and helped elevate ideas about what smaller indie games could be, and while I don’t think I’d say any game is worth waiting eight years for for, there’s also not a whole lot I’d change about The Witness or the time I spent with it. Slowly and deliberately exploring this resplendent island, picking my way through its elaborately constructed secrets, and occasionally bathing in the warm glow of revelation all cohered into a singular experience I’m not going to forget, or even stop thinking about, anytime soon. The Witness isn’t just an example of how video games can be similar to other creative works; it’s also a great reminder of the special things only games can do.
There are fleeting moments of fantastic achievement as you work through this world and it’s definitely a fascinating experience. It’s also obtuse and protracted, running interesting ideas into the ground until they feel like work and grinding your time through a mill while giving little back. With more judicious editing in each area’s design this could have been a slightly smaller but infinitely more enjoyable challenge. But, as it stands, the demands made, and the returns given, stretch out the reward to the point of transparency.
I’m excited to play this game. I was a fan of Braid, and its nice to see that Blow’s huge financial risk is paying off with his own creative vision. The puzzles are rumored to be quite difficult, but its nice to have puzzle-centric games like Portal and Talos Principle.
What are your impressions of The Witness? Will you be getting the game?