The Witness review: When yelling at your TV is perfectly acceptable

My essential toolkit when playing The Witness: Smart phone, heaps of paper & a pen.

Note: I‘ve tried my best not to include images that may spoil The Witness for people. I think I’ve succeeded.

The picture on the right shows what  I like to call my “toolkit” for whenever I played The Witness, the long-awaited new game from Jonathan Blow, the game designer behind platformer Braid.

There’s my smart phone, which I used to take photos (lots & lots of photos) of puzzles that I would use to help solve other puzzles later on if there was several in a row (and there are plenty of times when you’ll have to solve sequences of puzzles). Then there’s the screeds of paper and a pen to scribble what I think are the solutions to puzzles: Crooked lines, jagged lines and dots where the start and end points are. Often my set up worked, many times it didn’t.

The Witness is a game where you’ll need paper to jot things down, to scribble in, to write notes.

The Witness_20160127202057
My essential toolkit when playing The Witness: Smart phone, heaps of paper & a pen.

At its very simplest form, The Witness is a puzzle game where you draw lines from point A to point B on hundreds of puzzles dotted around a beautifully colourful island.

The puzzles start out relatively easy – the word is there are around 600 or so and many of them unlock lasers that fire their beams to a mountain in the centre of the island  – but before long, chances are you’ll be pulling your hair out, screaming at the TV and cursing why the hell you decided to play this game because what Blow and his team is asking of you just doesn’t make sense.

“IT JUST DOESN”T MAKE SENSE!,” I heard myself muttering.

You’re allowed to curse, scream and yell at your TV when you’re playing The Witness. You have my permission (and you will curse, scream and yell while you’re playing this game).

I'm not sure what the mountain is all about yet but it's clearly important.
I’m not sure what the mountain is all about yet but it’s clearly important.

When that happens – and it will happen – I found pausing the game, stepping away for 10 minutes/2 hours/the next day then coming back to it  helped. Most of the time. I’d also find myself thinking about the puzzles in my head while I was doing something else, or away from my PS4. I’m not sure whether that helped solve things or not.

Things do get head-scratchingly hard and I have an admission to make: After hours and hours of failure on a puzzle set in the treetops, I did the unthinkable: I consulted a YouTube walk through to help me solve it. It was a last resort but I saw no other option.

Make no mistake: The Witness is a game that many will outright hate and question its existence and that’s fair enough: It’ll set you back $NZ60, which is a lot for a game that will cause you to scratch your head and potentially scream in frustration, even if it is taking place in a meadow with trees with pink blossom, spindly branches and apples …

Pink blossum, meadows, puzzles on screens. What does it all mean?
Pink blossum, meadows, puzzles on screens. What does it all mean?

The Witness doesn’t hold your hand: There’s no tutorial, there’s no “This is how you solve this, sonny. You’re welcome”. You’re on your own from the beginning, expected to work out what to do and what solving each puzzle actually does (sometimes it’s not so clear, other times it’s as plain as day). There’s also no order in which to solve things but if you’re completely stumped by a puzzle chances are you’re not ready for that one yet.

The puzzles are one of two types: Observational, where you have to use cues in the game world itself to help solve the puzzle, and mathematical, where you have to use sequences of colours or shapes to find the solution (ie like Tetris. Funnily, enough, if you like Tetris you’ll love a lot of the puzzles in The Witness).

See that tree house in the top left corner? Yeah, this area proved troublesome so I had to consult YouTube. Please forgive me.
See that tree house in the top left corner? Yeah, this area proved troublesome so I had to consult YouTube. Please forgive me.

I’ve been playing The Witness now for a few hours – I don’t know how many exactly – and I think I like it. I can’t say it’s been fun the whole time, because it hasn’t. I mean, it’s got puzzles that are designed to frustrate and confound but it has been rewarding. It has definitely been that.

Oh, and there are boats that you can use to travel around the island. I only found that out one night after I couldn’t solve a puzzle to open a gate. The Witness has boats. Here’s video of me going on a boat ride

If you’re who likes to run around game worlds shooting things then you’re going to hate The Witness. The Witness makes no apologies for being a game that challenges the player into using their brain and ability to work out sequences and combinations. It wears that badge proudly on its brightly coloured sleeve – and  I think I like The Witness for that.

Thanks to PlayStation NZ, which supplied me with a download code for The Witness.

 

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