Pop CultureFebruary 2, 2016

This week I played – The Witness


Joseph Harper takes a long, taxing, circuitous and satisfying walk through the world of The Witness, a 3D puzzle game set on a pastel-colored island with a mysterious secret. 

The Witness, the latest game from Braid creator Jonathan Blow, has been in the works since 2008. It’s a 3D puzzle adventure game vaguely in the mode of Myst.

On a superficial level, you wander around an island solving a series of increasingly difficult maze puzzles. Which is fun in and of itself. But the real joy of The Witness is the game you’ll be playing internally. Puzzle mechanics evolve constantly. If you feel you’re keeping stride, more often than not, a new twist in the rules will develop setting your understanding back to square one.

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At times it’s unbelievably frustrating. But it’s a game of tense and release, and Blow is clever enough to realise that the longer and harder you grip your Playstation controller, the more satisfying it is when everything clicks into place and it floats softly out of your tense clutches.

When my girlfriend took control she immediately determined the game was “jazzed up snake” and that is was “horseshit” and that essentially all video games are shitty. Then she spent an hour working on a puzzle and anxiously asked for the controller again when we arrived at the next maze panel.

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This is all to say nothing of the beautiful setting and calming ambient soundscapes that surround you on the island, or the overarching meta-puzzle you uncover throughout. Crumbling ruins, freshly sliced apples, jugglers turned to stone, lazers beaming toward a mountaintop. All gorgeously rendered in fresh pastels and the bright mid-day sun.

As you move through the island, you realise the game is forcing you to examine its contents across multiple levels simultaneously and creating puzzles for you to solve that might not even exist.

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The Witness isn’t about snaking through mazes looking for exits. It’s about examining your own turning cogs and finding entries to the parts of you that have resolve and a willingness to discover and celebrate in equal parts.

Highly recommended. Get it on Steam or PS4.

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