Game: The Witness
Platform: PS4 (version played), PC
It’s funny the what some games can do to your mind in the real world. Known as the Tetris effect, it can come in different forms – for example, where you begin to look at objects and the scenery around you and mentally try to fit them together as in the aforementioned title, or seeing the world through the eyes of the Prince as you mentally roll up everything around you with your sticky Katamari ball (and absolutely my main experience with this cognitive effect). Now I have another game to add to that real-world pervading category in The Witness.
Following up Braid was always going to be a difficult challenge, so it shouldn’t really be a surprise that Jonathan Blow’s sophomore game has been 7 years in the making going through many different incarnations before finally landing as what we see today. The core concept of the game revolves around solving umpteen diagrams, often in the form of grids by drawing a line from a circular starting point through to the end, but what sounds simple and almost tedious at first quickly evolves into something a lot more engaging as new mechanics come into play. These introductions are some of the smoothest I’ve seen in a puzzle game, with new sets of puzzles forming their own comprehensive tutorial for the new idea that’s introduced. Once you complete these, you should understand exactly how each component works which will help you solve the hardest puzzles and the world overall, which is quite a feat for a game with no spoken or text instructions.
And boy do the puzzles get hard. Many an hour was spent staring at the screen in disbelief trying to work out how I was meant to get to the ending point while also following all the requisite rules – I bought a new moleskin notebook specifically for the game and it definitely saw a lot of use as I transcribed the puzzles and tried to solve them away from the game. Even if you did get stuck, you’re able to try another puzzle or walk away at any point to move onto another area in the game’s beautiful and diverse open world. Despite the difficulty curve, the setting gives the game a reflective and relaxing edge which not many other puzzle games can compete with. It’s also well worth exploring the deserts, the forests, the jungles, the mountains (and so on) as the game as there are plenty of extra things to find, including audio logs and other interesting things (I won’t go into too much detail but there are discoveries you can make that led to what I’m sure will become one of my favourite ever gaming moments).
While a lot of the concepts are interesting and bordering on fun, there are some that didn’t gel with me and went on slightly too long and others that were only given a couple of puzzles when they deserved lot more. I also wouldn’t suggest this game to anyone who doesn’t like puzzles because while there is more than just line puzzles, there are a lot of line puzzles, and while the price has been criticised (£30 at time of writing), I beleive it’s well worth it given the experience I had.
I would write more but my wife is currently playing The Sims and I’m getting distracted by the gridlines and I’m mentally trying to solve the puzzle she doesn’t know she’s created for me