Solve Brain-Teasing Puzzles in The Witness
Jonathon Blow’s The Witness is now available on the PC, but it’s markedly different than Braid, his first game. Where Braid focused on time reversal and manipulation in a platformer capacity, The Witness instead drops you smack-dab into the middle of a luscious, 3D island—one you’re encouraged to poke around and explore.
Of course, it just so happens that this mysterious island is chock-full of cleverly designed 2D puzzles that must be solved to progress further into the game. Most of the puzzles have power cables that lead to doorways, items of interest, and very often more puzzles. When you beat a puzzle, connected power cables light up, directing you to previously unreachable areas. At the very beginning of your quest, the puzzles seem largely simplistic, and they effectively boost your confidence. You’ll learn that drawing a line from an open circle to an exit point leads to success, and that the opaque tail you leave behind through a maze can’t be passed through.
But as you make your way onward, you’ll discover puzzles that create new rules, which usually bleed over into the next conundrum. In fact, discovering these new rules, and how a puzzle actually works, is just as fun as actually partaking of the puzzle itself. It feels very much like a master teaching their student the craft. It’s your brain vs. Jonathon Blow’s brain, and he cleverly guides you without ever giving too much away. Before long, you’ll be tasked to dig deep into your thinking cap, layering previous solutions over each other to unravel new, cathartic results. On top of that, you’ll also need to pay close attention to your surroundings for vital clues, as the island itself can act as a decoder ring.
And while every single puzzle—667 of them in total—all involve a similar 2D interface, there’s a vast amount of variety in how they play out. Shortly after you begin, you’ll bump into puzzles that make about as much sense as Star Trek techno-babble. Despite the urge to tackle them, you’ll need to leave them be until you’re a more seasoned in-game puzzle-solver. However, when you uncover their mechanics from other puzzles encountered throughout the game, you’ll come back to them and suddenly they’ll make sense (but that still doesn’t mean they’ll be a cake-walk to crack—as mentioned before, unraveling how the puzzles work is merely half the battle).
You can expect to spend some serious playing-time in The Witness. Jonathon Blow suggested that the average gamer would need about 20 to 25 hours to finish it, but judging by recent reviews, that number actually seems a little low. If you’re new to puzzle games, you can probably expect more along the lines of 30 to 40 hours, and that’s only if you plan on blazing through without searching around for secrets. Of which there are plenty. IGN surmises that: “It would take 80 to 100 hours to fully do and see everything here, but there’s a satisfying amount of thematic weight and contextual clues that I was able to reach the ending the first time without feeling like The Witness owed me a greater answer to its riddles.”
As IGN’s reviewer alludes to above, the reason you can spend so much extra time in-game is because there’s a lot hiding under the island’s surface. Oddly realistic statues—many of them in very human positions—populate the entirety of the land, and the people they mimic come from all aspects of our timeline: photographers, painters, swordsmen, kings, and more. There are also secret audio logs with profound, philosophical undertones that offer context to your journey. If you have even the slightest bit of curiosity welling inside you, you’ll be compelled to try and demystify the meaning of all the symbolism by searching out additional clues. That said, The Witness is more about the questions than the answers when it comes to the story. Much is left to your interpretation.
To complement the nefariously clever puzzles and hidden items peppered throughout the game, The Witness looks gorgeous on the PC. The graphics remind of classic pastel paintings—bright, vibrant, and colorful scenes punctuated by blue skies and natural light (very similar to Team Fortress 2’s art style). Wide palm branches poke out of husks on abandoned beaches, fiery orange leaves intermingle with sharp green foliage along rows of elm trees, and calm ponds reflect their world above like untarnished mirrors.
Seeing these visuals brought to life on a high-resolution monitor—powered by an awesome GeForce GPU—is truly magnificent, especially after tweaking the graphics for even better image quality. And while a state-of-the-art NVIDIA card such as the GTX 970, 980, and 980 Ti will really make The Witness shine, it’ll still run on older hardware as well, and it doesn’t need Windows 10 to install. (Take a peek at the system requirements section below for more info.) The Witness also utilizes a subtle, minimalist approach to sound. There’s no background music, and typically you’ll only hear your footsteps crunching along the ground, interweaved sparsely with other quiet noises, such as branches swaying in the wind or the dull whir of a distant motor. It’s a delightful change of pace from other games, where it sometimes seems like there’s too much bombarding your ears at once.
Also, by playing The Witness on the PC, you’ll have access to VR support. Walking around the game’s virtual island, taking in all the lavish vistas, and using your hands to solve the puzzles is darn enticing. According to GameSpot: “Blow said that a demo of Valve's technology convinced him to add virtual reality support to his upcoming first-person puzzle game The Witness. Though he doesn't mention the Oculus Rift by name, Blow said that The Witness will support Valve’s device ‘and any similar device.’” This is great timing, considering that the Oculus Rift is now available for preorder, with the HTC Vive following suite starting February 29th.
The Witness’s recommended system requirements are as follows:
- OS: Windows 7
- Processor: 2.4GHz
- Memory: 8GB RAM
- Graphics: GeForce GTX 780
- DirectX: Version 10
- Storage: 4 GB available space
If you’re a die-hard puzzle fan, The Witness might be your holy grail. But even if you lean towards other genres, such as FPSes, it’s likely you’ll enjoy The Witness too, especially for its immersive first-person environment, extensive exploration, and challenging gameplay. You can buy The Witness right this second off Steam, and you can read even more about it on the game’s homepage. There are plenty of complimentary reviews out there as well, including those at PC Gamer, IGN, GameSpot, Polygon, and Kotaku.