Review: The Witness

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It seemed like The Witness was the only game on people’s radars leading up to its release. This, of course, was refreshingly exciting, considering that indie titles don’t typically get this strong of a reaction. I took a gander at the trailers when they were first posted – and found the game to look absolutely stunning – but wasn’t hooked in. Since playing, I’ve developed an appreciation for The Witness that wasn’t previously present.

Originally posted on GameFocus

Developer Thelka, Inc. – mainly operated by Jonathon Blow – clearly set out to stray from conventional methods and produce a game like no other. Thankfully for all, the ambitious group was able to accomplish just that. In the case of The Witness, we are all winners.

Bursting colours illuminate the environment with a stylistic tone that’s incomparable to any other titles to date; oddly-shaped polygon-like objects such as rocks and fences only add to its uniqueness. There are little to no negative aspects about the visuals, and it might possibly be the prettiest game of 2016 so far.

Additionally, The Witness boasts about having one of the best exploratory experiences in recent years. The game provides no guidance – which lends to part of its charm (and frustration) – so it is up to the player to navigate the island setting at their own will. There is a semi-set path by which to follow, but some areas can be unlocked in an interchangeable manner. And while the environment isn’t massive in reference to today’s standards, its open-concept includes a variety of biomes that change the tone almost instantly.

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There is a faint narrative that can be discovered by collecting scattered audio logs, but you can play the whole game without hearing a single word of dialogue if that’s what you’re into. In a way, this is an intriguing choice, as you as the player can concoct a wild lore to accompany the game.

Unfortunately, gameplay is one of the weakest aspects to the game. Aside from character movement, the only mechanic is navigation in puzzles. Using your joystick(s), you must lead your curser(s) through mazes, with a variety of objectives to accomplish along the way. Essentially, they are alike to the maze puzzles found on children’s menus at sit-down restaurants. But don’t get things twisted, The Witness is far from child’s play.

The puzzles throughout the game become more difficult as you progress – and at times, you’ll want to hurl your controller at anything and everything. Like previously stated, the game encourages exploration, and likewise, the puzzles do as well; trial and error will serve as your best friend. Whether the frustration element is a positive or negative aspect is obviously up to the player.

One trick that I found useful in dealing with difficult elements of the game was to take notes. There are moments that reward memory and repetition, so jotting reminders down may save you a fair amount of time. It may also be a good idea to scribble curse words you shouldn’t otherwise be yelling.

But above all else, there is one instrumental piece of information that is not to be forgotten: never play with a partner. Interactions with others will only result in altercations. The Witness is best played in a calm, singular environment void of any outside disturbance.

The silent aura within the game is one of the greatest strengths of The Witness, and the lack of music and dialogue add a solitary element that is not often found in titles being released today. It is oddly refreshing to play a game without a heavy amount of background music. Sure, an original score would have been wonderful, but there is something emotional about being a lonely inhabitant of an island of one.

For those who refuse to appreciate games that feature patience over irreverence will only be missing out on something special with The Witness. Not only are the visuals jaw-droppingly gorgeous, the hunt for new areas will have you playing for hours on end. There are a couple of hiccups, such as puzzles becoming tiresome, but when everything is boiled down, the game is about wonder rather than gameplay. The Witness is a perfect pallet cleanser when compared to ultra-intense titles, and serves as one of the most unique and intriguing experiences in gaming to date.

 

For those like that scores…

8.6

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