Remember Myst? Of course you do – a cryptic puzzle game with a unique story lying underneath a series of frustrating (yet memorable) mind-bogglers. That game continues to be etched in gaming history, despite its simplistic design.
Enter The Witness, Jonathan Blow’s much-hyped project, and his latest work following the enjoyable Braid. This game has a lot in comparison to Myst, especially when it comes to the lack of a storyline or tutorial, forcing you to figure things out as you go along.
At least the puzzles are a bit easier to figure out, rather than messing around with items in the environment and hoping for the best. Your job is to tinker with a variety of panels, moving a circle around a grid and completing a line in the process. This is relatively easy at first, but as the game goes along, puzzles become more complex, and you eventually have to resolve some real head-scratchers in order to proceed.
The game does live up to its length, as there are hours’ worth of puzzles to solve here, along with unique environments to run through. They’re simple in nature, but tie in with Blow’s wondrous world design – and the way puzzles can integrate with them are really something.
As for the gameplay, it helps to be patient. It certainly isn’t broken, but it helps to go into the game with an open mind, realizing that things won’t come so easy. As I’ve explained, there’s no tutorial or hand-holding here, so you’ll have to figure things out for yourself. Once you do, though, you’ll almost feel a sense of wonderment, as if you’re becoming smarter with each one you figure out. It’s not often that a game gifts you with a sense of accomplishment as you go along, but that’s exactly what The Witness does.
The island that you wander around, as I mentioned, is a beautiful sight, as you can literally look off coastlines and travel through small forests as you figure out your next move. There could’ve been more of an exploration factor to the game, I think, but as it stands, it’s still quite a sight, and the music score is moving in its own right, adding more to the game rather than subtracting.
And that, of course, leads us to the big question – is a game like this worth its $40 price tag? It’s true, something like this could’ve been budgeted at $20 and been a best-seller. But I’d like to think it still earns its worth at that price, as the puzzles will take a great deal of time to resolve – and it’s about on the level of length as several full price games. Some will obviously complain, but I can kind of see the justification here, especially considering what you get out of the game – an experience that, in a way, can heighten your senses.
I may never figure out what’s going on inside the head of Jonathan Blow – or what the deal really was with that “piss jug” picture he posted on Twitter – but there’s no denying his savvy when it comes to game development. Like Braid, The Witness is an acquired taste, but a very good one, thanks to its innovative puzzle structure, its luscious world, and its diabolical way of making you learn a thing or two.
Not too many games can do that.