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  • Writer's pictureJackson Tarrant

The Witness (2016) Review

Featured on N4G.com, September 21, 2016

Watch the video review below!

The sophomore title from the genius mind behind 2008’s “Braid” is not only leaps and bounds greater than its freshman counterpart, but miles ahead of most video games in the puzzle/storytelling genre. The genius I’m referring to is Jonathan Blow, the creative director behind The Witness who manages to flawlessly blend expressionism and mind-bending problem solving in a single grandiose package. The Witness throws you into a world with gorgeous scenery and beautiful biomes that you’re free to explore and delve further into by solving puzzle after increasingly difficult puzzle. The story isn’t easy to ascertain and prompts individual interpretation. The world is vast, yet empty of others to interact with. Instead, tableaux populates the region consisting of humans who appear to have been turned to stone.


The core gameplay in The Witness revolves around a deceivingly simple mechanic, drag a token from one end of a maze to the other. When I began my first play-through of the game, I didn’t realize that the same square maze mechanic was going to be reused throughout my time on the island. I was disappointed at first but I’ve never been so wrong about a game’s depth at first sight then I was with The Witness. The puzzles see so many permutations that its difficult to boil it down to a simple point A to B maze. The puzzles are never frustrating, I always knew that I had the answer in the back of my mind, the challenge was to interpolate it on screen. Each time you connect point A to B successfully, there is a grand sense of reward - and sometimes astonishment - that all games in the genre strive for; The Witness does it best.


The game offers a puzzling tale within a puzzle genre. And that’s exactly what Jonathan Blow set out to do. How you choose to interpret and craft the story is solely up to your discretion. I discovered that the plot has many undertones of isolation and reflection on modern society. The human statues can be found holding their loved ones or taking a photo on top of a mountain before ceasing to function. I believe Blow is drawing a parallel between these frozen beings to society’s failure to live in the moment. But that is merely one interpretation of the overarching story; The rest is for you to determine. Another essential aspect included in The Witness that all good stories have, is the primal need for survival. I don’t know about you, but being stranded on an island littered with human statues isn’t exactly a sane way to live.


Even though The Witness doesn’t have a multiplayer aspect, I found my friends and I constantly discussing how we solved each puzzle or what route we took from start to finish. And that’s how The Witness perfectly lent itself to the open-world/exploration genre. After a small tutorial sanction, I was released into the wild and left on my own. I took off down a path and didn’t stop until I reached the ocean. But It didn’t matter where I started or how I got there. Every puzzle provided new obstacles and a great sense of reward upon each and every completion.


It’s difficult to compare a smaller title such as The Witness to other games with million dollar budgets. However, every aspect of game-making that Jonathan Blow and his team set out to achieve gets knocked straight out of the park. Whether you are treading through streams in the forest, or walking on sand along the desert, the restrictions of the island you are pitted in become less and less confined and open a world worth exploring. The core gameplay is another attribute that demands your intelligence and challenges how you think about completing each task. The Witness is among few titles that absolutely nails the puzzle and storytelling genre in a way that feels both rewarding and immersive simultaneously. This game demands the attention of gamers who enjoy the puzzle genre and deserves to stand on the podium among the likes of similar classics such as Portal 2.




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