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The Witness (PC) review: Uncovering an island's secrets, one line at a time

Hayden Dingman | Jan. 26, 2016
It took eight years for Jonathan Blow to create his follow-up to Braid. It was worth it. We're obsessed.

The Witness

I’m not finished with The Witness yet, or maybe it’s more apropos to say The Witness isn’t finished with me. My surroundings tell the story of this review—a marked-up pad of graph paper, two notebooks with hastily-scribbled notes, two well-worn pens, a whiteboard covered in arcane markings, and an inked-up envelope I grabbed off my nightstand to jot down a potential solution last night.

I am obsessed.

Testimonial

The powers-that-be have asked us not to spoil anything about The Witness. It is hard. There is much I would like to say about The Witness, but thinking back to the beginning I realize most of it is dependent upon some moment of revelation, some hasty experiment that actually worked. Things, in other words, that should not be spoiled.

Here, then, are some unequivocally true statements. The Witness is a puzzle game. In development for something like eight years, it’s Jonathan Blow’s long-awaited follow-up to Braid. And it revolves around, for lack of a better term, “line puzzles.”

What is a line puzzle? It’s easier for me to show you, so I’ll just lift some examples from very early in the game. They look like this:

The Witness

Or sometimes like this:

The Witness

You start at the circle part, you draw a line to the little rounded exit thing. And in playing The Witness, you do that something like 500 times. If you’re thinking “That sounds comically easy,” well, you’re wrong. And if you’re thinking “I don’t think there’s enough here to hold my attention,” well, you’re probably wrong again.

I’ll admit, the line puzzles on their own probably wouldn’t be enough. You wouldn’t want to pick up a book of line puzzles and fill them in, one at a time. Or a phone app. The purely mechanical side of the game is absolutely helped along by some esoteric eye-candy.

See, puzzles in The Witness are scattered around a fairly large island, broken up into distinct zones—a quarry, a castle, a dock, an orange forest, a desert, and et cetera. Walk into an old Egyptian-esque temple, there are line puzzles. Inside the boathouse? Line puzzles. Scattered amidst the trees? Panels with line puzzles.

The Witness

It gives you something to look forward to besides yet-another-puzzle. Discovering the island, exploring its nooks and crannies, is just as much part of the game as solving the puzzles hidden therein. Curiosity, the human need for answers, is a powerful force and “What’s behind this damn door?” or “How do I get past this gate?” is what keeps you staring at a puzzle for two hours at a time, determined to find the answer. Even if the answer is just “More line puzzles.”

 

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