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'The Witness', by Jonathan Blow.

March 07, 2016 game review, point&click, puzzle
Happy anticipation.

I have been playing The Witness for a while now, and apparently, I'm not very good at it. According to Steam, I have been playing for 50 hours (although, I often minimize the game instead of closing it) and I have only finished 299/+14 puzzles.

The game location is a beautiful island with many 'places of interest' : 'Camelot Castle' with the challenging mazes, 'Autumn Forest' & 'Spring Forest', 'Magic Mountain', 'the Quarry', 'Swamp Village', 'The Ship', ... and many more (these are my names for the places).
Scattered throughout the island 'Black Monoliths' hum menacingly. Did they somehow turn the people on the island into stone ???

Or is this entire island some kind of a memory, or monument, to commemorate a special event (Good? Bad?)

These images, to me, summarize what 'The Witness' is all about :

Man in despair, Western Village. Jugler, Western Village.
A man in despair ... Or the village juggler ?!

This is what I like about the game :

    You can almost smell the flowers, and feel the heat of the sun on your skin.
  • The attention to detail is incredible !
    They added so many 'little' things in the game, that sadly most players won't ever notice ...
  • The puzzles that require logic to solve.
  • The mystery.
    What happened on the island ???
  • Nice surprises.
    The small boat that takes you around the island.
  • You can walk almost anywhere.
    Exhilarating feeling of freedom if you're used to pre-rendered games.
  • The theater and the sound recordings.

Some game treasure (images do not do the game justice) :

Encounter with a 'Black Monolith' in 'Autumn Forest'.
Encounter with a 'Black Monolith' in 'Autumn Forest'.
'Camelot Castle' is actually a church.
Hidden beneath one of the mechanical mazes : 'Camelot Castle' was once a church ...
Tree leaf floating in the water.
Tree leaf floating on the water.
Desert flowers.
Desert flowers.

This is what didn't work well for me :

  • The puzzles that require you to be in just the right spot to solve.
    These involve a lot of moving back and forth trying to find a place where the puzzle starts making sense. For me, this usually translates in too much time spent and not enough feelings of accomplishment.
  • Puzzles that you need to retrace when you make a mistake.
    Since I have already solved the puzzle once before, retracing it teaches me nothing new ...
  • Not knowing if I'm just not clever enough to solve a puzzle, or if I can't solve the puzzle because I'm still missing a piece of information.
  • I will probably never be able to figure out the purpose of the 'Black Monoliths' (see first point on this list).

In conclusion : 'The Witness' is a beautiful game that is much more then the sum of its puzzles. It evokes a sense of adventure and wonder, and leaves one with a feeling of "But what does it all mean ?" ....
Serious side effect : be prepared to see traces everywhere (in real life) !