Starting in a dark cylindrical tunnel, I made my way towards a dim light source. A door. I pressed A and solved the first puzzle – a simple navigational maze. The door opens. It’s dark inside save for another mysterious panel with another maze to solve. That door opens, but this time there’s a light at what must be the top of some stairs. Bright colour floods in from the outside world. So began my exploration into the world of The Witness.
Outside is a courtyard. I’m trapped. There are numerous panels scattered around, each one is connected to the next via wires, but only one has power. Solving the puzzle makes an unknown electrical source flow down the wire leading me to the next panel. Solving all the panels reveals a final larger one that controls an illuminated gate that looks a little like the grids of the mazes I’ve been solving.
Beyond the courtyard is a vast island bathed in gorgeous contrasting colours and made up of different areas including a marsh, quarry and lush forests. There land is scattered with more of these maze puzzles to solve, each one more devious than the last and with new mechanics dropped in to really push your thinking and logic solving skills. Each new mechanic is never explained. Each puzzle has no hints and at times, this can get quite difficult with no apparent solution or obvious direction to head in, which could potentially frustrate novice puzzle solvers out there. Often I walked around aimlessly looking for another puzzle to solve, which at times is the best course of action.
With no obvious path (and no map) you will stumble across puzzles that make little sense, but by finding the right group of puzzles, you will discover the logic to their solution and solve those that may have initially seemed impossible. The Witness steps up the difficulty brilliantly before hitting you with a set of puzzles that combine several of the mechanics.
There’s some wonderful puzzles too – although it may not seem it at the time – that will have you chuckling with joy at the creativity of the solution, especially when sound and the environment come into play when deciphering the solution. A small hint, have a pen and paper to hand – I think the last time I did this was to draw out mazes back on a C64 game!
Through numerous recordings and a secret hidden theatre, a glimmer of story is revealed, but its all so ambiguous that it’s up to the viewer to decide what the island is really about – what are these statues? Who am I? Why am I even here? Without spoiling things too much – the ending even has two sections if you can find the entrance to the second ending – I’ve already said too much although there is a clue in this review – if you’ve learnt anything from your time on the island you will find the ending without any help and maybe an answer to some of your questions.
For such a simple take on puzzle solving, the maze puzzles can get phenomenally hard – wonderfully so – and some of the puzzles can easily be missed if you don’t ‘get’ the game’s conclusion. Should the penny drop, then there’s a whole heap of puzzles that add to the mystery of the island.
I’ve bested the main game, stumbled across the ‘other’ ending and attempting the time trial challenge, yet I still feel there’s a whole heap to The Witness that I haven’t discovered yet. Is The Witness too clever for its own good? Maybe, but I’m enthralled by it and even though there is no narrative, The Witness has propelled itself to sit firmly at the top of my all time favourite puzzler list.