Thoughts on The Witness

I love Braid. Braid is, in my opinion, one of the greatest games of the past generation. So you would think that I would be looking forward to creator Jonathan Blow’s next game, The Witness. However, I wasn’t really excited for it. I thought it looked fine but I didn’t know much about it and I wasn’t motivated to look into it. So when it was released last month, I decided to “get to it when I get to it.” Well, nearly a month later I “got to it.”

First off, this game is freaking beautiful. The pastel colors, the bright palette, even the mostly texture-less models all come together to display a breathtaking picture. I will say that because the game is devoid of any ambient noise aside from the sound of a rushing stream and walking sounds, the island you’re on feels lifeless and could be interchangeable visually with a still picture rather than an interactive video game.

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The Witness is a open world puzzle game where you are free to roam this mysterious island with wall panels with puzzles on them scattered throughout. At first, the puzzles felt creative and clever. The first few areas I visited successfully taught me its mechanics efficiently and the design of the puzzles gave me emphatic moments of satisfaction. I often stopped playing for a moment to think “Oh, I see what you did there. Very nice” and as a result, I was very pleased with myself to have solved the puzzle. However, as I proceeded to more areas, that feeling decreased. I started getting less enjoyment out of the puzzles as I realized that the panel puzzles were starting to lose their luster. It was getting boring as this kind of puzzle just isn’t engaging enough for as long as the game was going.

Then I reached a puzzle that I was hopelessly stuck on. After being stuck for a half an hour, turning the game off, coming back to it later in the day, and being stuck for another 15 minutes, I caved and looked up the solution. However, I wanted to find out how they came to that solution and I couldn’t find one. I could just find the solution on its own. One guide I found just flat out said that they had brute forced their way to the solution. This made me mad and was the beginning of the end of the game for me.

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I went on to finish the final section of the area I was in and started looking for the next section to go to. However, I got completely lost. Or rather I got completely blocked by the puzzles. I couldn’t find a puzzle in any of the five areas I came across that I could complete. Each area seemed to be devoid of the efficiency the previous puzzles had towards teaching me its mechanics. I wondered how this game expected me to do any of this without any scrap of help. I came to feel like the game just expected me to know what I was doing without any prior knowledge.

This is where I gave up. I managed to go through the opening section, the cherry blossoms area, the work shed, the parallel lines area, and the desert area. Despite the initial enjoyment, I don’t feel rewarded enough from these areas to struggle through the rest of the game, especially with no minuscule of effort to help me from the design. I don’t get enjoyment from proving my intellectual mettle to a video game that seems designed to make you feel stupid. I will mention that it doesn’t help that I’ve been watching the Game Grumps playthrough of Portal 2, which is a much better puzzle game and the comparison makes The Witness’ shortcomings all the more apparent. Hell, the game doesn’t hold up well against Braid. Not bad but not nearly as good as many reviews would have you believe.

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