I Have Witnessed The Witness
Games have captured my attention for nearly three decades. I have played hundreds of games and believe I understand the qualities that allows them to stand out as the best games of all-time. Lists of “best games” are often very opinionated, culminating in little variety from list-to-list with the shocking reveal moment being whether an Xbox, Playstation or Nintendo game takes the top spot.
Jonathan Blow, creator of Braid which won the 2006 Independent Games Festival, Games Design Award, has worked up another gaming marvel to rival the chart toppers....The Witness. While mainstream media may not add this new game to their lists, I’m going to suggest that The Witness will go down as one of the greatest games of all time.
The opening scene begins with your character (first person view) in a dark and narrow tunnel. Upon exiting you gaze upon a sunny sky speckled with a few clouds that look like they have no desire to drop a single ounce of rain on you. There are walls enclosing you into the land you stand upon with some couches and pillows; a sort of outdoor patio atmosphere.
Then you spot it. An oddly placed, square computer monitor that is powered “on” and has a maze to solve. As you click the “A” button to interact you see a round cursor on your screen. You move the cursor to the beginning of the maze and snake your way to the exit... Easy! You notice that it has a power cord from it that was previously black and now glows an enchanting yellow, leading off into another direction. You follow it to another computer monitor and another maze. Solving a handful of these activates a large gate which you open and then you realize you are standing on a rather large island.
It was at this point that I realized this game was going to be epic.
Moving from the various zones of the island provides you with different mazes to complete. They all start with a computer monitor that acts like a tutorial, teaching you the mechanic of the puzzle. As you progress through the zone they become more difficult. By the time you’ve explored the island you've ran into puzzles that incorporate multiple elements from the previous zones while also adding new features. This forces you to remember the types of mechanics for each aspect of these puzzles in order to follow the rules of whatever puzzle you are currently working on.
This sort of “language” to the world is creative and painful at times but not in a bad way. Painful, like trying to literally learn a new language and not quite having a word in your new vocabulary to complete the sentence you want to speak. Eventually you remember the word and your sense of satisfaction finally comes. This game has somewhere around 500 puzzles to solve, so there are plenty of moments like this to be had.
Adding the previous zones puzzle mechanics to the next zone in addition to new mechanics is great. You start to realize that the shape, from start to finish in each maze, begins with a circle which snakes around to a semi-circle ending. You swear that this is a shape you’ve seen in the environment, so you run back across the island to the point that recalled your memory; you click “A” to interact and your cursor comes up; you move it to the dirt path that has a circle which snakes along through the grass before ending in a semi-circle and sparks start to ignite the path. You’ve discovered an environmental puzzle! Now the game takes a turn from a very good puzzler to something incredible. You're no longer as concerned about the computer monitor mazes as you are with your surroundings and you begin realizing that puzzles have been sitting right in front of you this whole time. You also start to see semi-circle shapes everywhere which is a bit distracting, almost like the multitude of side quests in RPG’s (very time consuming and not really the main plot line). You notice that when looking through the trees at the sky there's a shape that turns into a solvable maze. You notice an obscure pipe seems a little too perfectly placed and at just the right vantage point you see the maze from start to end.
This magnificent blend of puzzles that are obvious with other hidden puzzles is what makes this game so unforgettable. I have poured approximately 30 hours or more into this game exploring the island and trying to discover it’s secrets. It has been my game of choice most nights for the last month and will continue to be a game that has me paying close attention to geometry in real life, if only for the fact that I’ve done so in such tedious ways in The Witness.
This game is more of a video game representation of a thought, or a way of thinking, or even a philosophy. There are numerous elements in the game which give some narrative to an otherwise absent plot-line. These come in the form of videos that seem random but actually share a philosophy of searching the world for truth but only being able to take away truth from your own personal experience. This connection couldn’t be any closer to the way in which the player is forced to play this game. You scour the environment looking for what you believe to be true and are often rewarded. Doubt is a key element as this game encourages you to understand the rules it has set forth only to provide puzzles that have a tendency to deceive you into believing the rules will work. Each puzzle allowing your experience to teach you the correct path.
I believe that this game will relate well to all gamers that give it a chance. It's the type of game that surprises you throughout. This game still has me thinking and wondering "Who thinks of this kind of stuff!”. The Witness allows the gamer to use their mind to entertain themselves which is why I believe this game will forever go down as one of my top games of all-time.
I am currently on my second play through mostly because I have a want, no a need, to find and solve all the puzzles. It has been remarkable to me how many fun and thought provoking hours of entertainment and enlightenment I have received from The Witness. It has a strong flare of Existentialism which I find fascinating and believe can make people appreciate things in their life the more they study this subject. I strongly encourage everyone to play this game.
While it may not make many mainstream “Best Games Ever” lists, it will reside in my top 5 games of all-time...but I guess that depends on how many more games Jonathan Blow makes in the future.
I love gaming! I love being a Dad to two young children! I love being a husband! What's great about my life is I've got kids who are interested in gaming and a wife who understands my need to game. I grew up in the 80's playing Nintendo classics and dabbled a bit with PlayStation before seeing "the light" that is Xbox. I love everything about it and am looking forward to sharing my experiences through the lens of a gamer, dad/husband and as a gamer with a Master's Degree in Psychology. Let the analyzing begin!