I loved Braid. Jonathan Blow’s time-bending puzzle-platformer with its mind-bending ending still stands as one of my favourite games from the previous generation. Exceedingly clever in both content and execution, it helped re-ignite the indie development scene in a big way – proving that smaller, more focused games can not only be critically successful, but commercially viable too.
When Blow first announced The Witness, his next game, I was rather excited – but it’s been so long since that game was announced that the game disappeared from my radar. Reviews of the game are now out, and well, it’s pinging like mad on my screen.
Here’s what critics have to say about The Witness, a game which takes is cues from games like Myst.
There are still things about The Witness I can’t make sense of–some clues I might never notice, and some puzzles I might never solve. But the hints are there. It might not all be clear at first, but that’s okay, because I’m always learning.
Polygon: 8 /10
That said, I doubt I’ll be heading back in for a completionist run. It’s a beautiful game and knowing that I finished it with minimal help actually does make me feel smarter. It also contains some subtle messages about human potential that I found surprisingly uplifting (when I wasn’t pulling my hair out). Despite feeling deeply satisfied by the experience, it’s hard for me to ignore how much time I spent frustrated and bored and angry. Maybe contrasting those two ends of the emotional spectrum is essential to the experience of playing The Witness, but an era when they can skip the frustration, I’m not convinced most players will have the patience to obtain it.
Game Informer: 9.25/10
The opaque world might be disappointing for some players, but The Witness is about a different kind of discovery. It steers your mind in unconventional directions, and makes you feel clever as you build on your knowledge and uncover new layers about the game’s language and logic. Even when I wasn’t playing it, I was thinking about puzzles that had me stumped. Some puzzles are tough, but all of them are fair, and the fun of solving them is only topped by seeing what awaits you on the next series of monitors.
The Witness has a power and pull that carried me throughout the more than 40 hours it took to complete it for the first time, and that, even now, beckons me back to confront the mysteries I left unsolved. Its graceful combination of tangible goals, obscurity, and freedom creates ample opportunity for small victories and grand revelations alike. For the most part, its themes weave themselves beautifully throughout the gorgeous world and wide variety of puzzles, but even when it breaks subtlety in favor of a more heavy-handed approach to exposition, it never detracts from the truly fulfilling moments The Witness offers in terms of solving its physical puzzles and unlocking its deepest mysteries.
PC Gamer: 89/10
You’re left with a mirror-tunnel of allusions and surmises that is undeniably thought-provoking, but may daze and annoy as many players as it beguiles. Mind you, it’s perhaps to the purpose that you’re asked to make sense of it all. I introduced The Witness as a teaching machine, but I suspect Blow’s agenda is to collapse the master-student relationship, equipping you with the tools and insights you need to approach the game’s sources of inspiration on your own terms. The Witness might be constructed around mechanical challenges with unambiguous outcomes, but as the choice of title implies, what it ultimately seeks to offer is a vantage point, a perspective on life’s mysteries, rather than answers.
Giant Bomb – 5/5
It’s hard to believe nearly eight years have passed since Braid came along and helped elevate ideas about what smaller indie games could be, and while I don’t think I’d say any game is worth waiting eight years for for, there’s also not a whole lot I’d change about The Witness or the time I spent with it.
Slowly and deliberately exploring this resplendent island, picking my way through its elaborately constructed secrets, and occasionally bathing in the warm glow of revelation all cohered into a singular experience I’m not going to forget, or even stop thinking about, anytime soon. The Witness isn’t just an example of how video games can be similar to other creative works; it’s also a great reminder of the special things only games can do.
So it seems like it’s pretty damned good then. It’s priced pretty high for an independently produced game, at $39.99 (or a reasonable R408 on the ZA steam page), but it seems like it’s worth every cent.
Last Updated: January 26, 2016