The Witness | Review
The Good
  • + Beautiful colour-coordinated art direction
  • + Each and every puzzle encompasses its own unique way of completion
  • + Your surroundings are part of the puzzle
The Bad
  • Nothing to report
100%"Masterpiece"

Want to look beyond the score? Check out the full review below…

Start Replay: “Masterpiece”

There’s something undeniably thrilling about solving puzzles that require sheer determination and genuine discovery to complete. I’ve played many puzzlers, and yet, I’ve never experienced anything close to The Witness.

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Led by Jonathan Blow, the creative genius behind the independently-produced and incredibly successful game, Braid, The Witness is located on a beautiful remote island and sets you the task of escaping. It’s bursting at the seams with colour, and before I’d even set my eyes on a puzzle, I knew I was in love.

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You begin in a long, dimly lit tunnel. Slowly, but surely, its basic gameplay mechanics are taught. Panels in the shape of cubes operate as your creative canvas, and each one presents a different challenge, though ultimately every one features the same goal; guide the glowing white line successfully to the end of the panel’s maze. It might sound like a simple task, and to begin with, it is, but rest assured that frustration lies just around the corner.

The size of the island is huge, but sets a balance between scale and quality. It packs a wealth of puzzles across its landscape that are all linked together in a very subtle way. You’re never told where to go and progression remains wholly dependent on your ability to explore, take your time, and focus on more than the one puzzle in front of you. There are numerous takes on the same basic puzzle structure. Thankfully without boring tutorials paving the way, being taught new puzzle structures is accomplished in an organic way.

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Whilst you aimlessly wonder the island and take in the different biomes each sector encompasses, small clusters of puzzle panels will set the scene for teaching you something new. You may well learn something about a puzzle you encountered much earlier in the game; exhaling a joyful sigh of relief and feeling proud that you didn’t succumb to an Internet guide. I’ll be honest, I did once or twice, but only due to time constraints.

Your surroundings might look stunning, but there’s more than meets the eye when it comes to its aesthetically charming art direction. Believe it or not, environments and their colour coordination lend themselves to the completion of certain puzzles. Take the image below as an example.

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There was no way for me to reach all points on the tree. I had no idea which point my singular line had to reach, until I noticed a resemblance between the puzzle itself and the tree behind it. The tree behind each one was in fact an exact replica of the puzzle. The red apple was the clue, and it told me exactly which point I had to hit in order to progress.

Uncovering this small detail lead me to completing more puzzles in a similar way. If I became stuck I’d simply take a step back and observe my immediate surroundings. It propelled the gameplay higher than I could ever have imagined. Completing puzzles began to truly test my ability to think outside of the box, even if frustration sometimes got the better of me. The feeling of solving a situation I previously thought impossible came with such elation, it made all the work worthwhile. Even whilst writing this I continue to look back at puzzles I still haven’t completed, despite my best efforts.

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It’s quite hard to explain the magic of The Witness, that is, without spoiling the many things that make it such a gem. It’s even harder to try and think about flaws. I could never score this game low due to my inability to complete certain puzzles. Its lack of hand holding might strike as a negative in some books, but the fact that you’re thrown into its world without any explanation, makes for natural progress at your own pace even more rewarding.

 

Conclusion

The Witness is, without a doubt, a puzzler that defines the genre in its purest form. Every aspect of its design has been meticulously thought out, and none-linear progression feels natural and organic. Frustration will be frequent, but it’s all in the spirit of reward and finding a solution through your own intuition.

 

 

*The Witness was provided to Start Replay on PS4 by Sony UK

About The Author

Joshua Ball
Editor-in-Chief

Meet Josh. As the head of Start Replay his overall objective is to keep things moving. Alongside ensuring that content is made on a regular basis, Josh loves attending and organising the many press events and expos that crop up. His favourite video games consist of the Arkham series and Metal Gear Solid, but there’s always room for a bit of horror. Follow Josh’s sparse tweets on Twitter or, alternatively, be sure to catch him in the crowd of the next big gaming event.

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