I am worthless. I am garbage. I am a dolt.
I am brilliant. I am special. I am a genius.
Those are the two extremes of self-value that The Witness constantly inflicts. It’s a continuous loop of not getting it until you totally get it. Then, you don’t get it again.
The Witness (PC, PS4 [reviewed])
Developer: Thekla, Inc.
Publisher: Thekla, Inc.
Released: January 26, 2016
I have vivid memories of sitting in geometry class in ninth grade and listening to the teacher explain why geometry is a different beast than the other maths we had already learned. “Don’t feel bad if you can’t do this yet,” he said. “The reason is because it’s chemically impossible for you. We’re doing theorems and proofs — your brain hasn’t ever been asked to think like that before. The synapses in your brain need to fire off in order to be able to understand this; when that happens, you’ll get it and this will all be easy for you.”
That “A-HA!” moment my geometry teacher spoke of — all those synapses firing to form a revelation — is the greatest reward The Witness has to offer and it happens countless times. It never grows old. After a bit, it’s no longer new, but it’s always fresh.
The fundamentals of The Witness are line puzzles. Grids, often in the shape of a rectangle, require navigating in a specific fashion to satisfy certain constraints and to reach the end-point. This is repeated hundreds of time over as the basic building block of the game. Through clever subversion, ever-evolving rule sets, and alternative methods, repetition never becomes cause for concern. Again, just like the many many moments of epiphany, the puzzles cease being new before long, but they are always fresh.
Well, that comes with a caveat. They are fresh as long as you want them to be. The Witness is largely fueled by your desire to discover. Once that wanes, so will your interest. The game’s island is drenched in mystery and detail, not all of which is able to be immediately appreciated. When that happens, it’s just another revelation that hasn’t formed yet. For what it’s worth, I’m 40-some hours in, and my interest hasn’t waned in the slightest; it has only grown considerably.
The reason for this is because The Witness smartly preys on the curiosity of human nature. Every direction has an inviting setting just begging to be explored. It’s a given that those settings will contain challenges — challenges that are imperative to continue exploring. It’s cyclical and gives way to a competitive mindset to not be bested even if we’re not necessarily mentally equipped yet. It’s all in the pursuit of just seeing more. We want to see more because seeing is learning, and that’s in the fiber of our being.
What truly makes The Witness everything that it is lies somewhere between the fundamentals of the puzzles and the deeply philosophical of everything else. These two work in tandem, complementing each other even when they seem worlds apart. There are so many layers of separation between the two that it’s almost impossible to perceive or even conceive. But, they’re there, working hand-in-hand and, on some level, one in the same. You’d be hard-pressed to declare that one of these components is closer to defining The Witness than the other.
Truthfully, I wish I didn’t have to score The Witness. I don’t want to set people up for that expectation; I don’t want a voice in the back of their head that says “Okay, when does this become a ten?” In a way, that’s unfair and detrimental to how the game should be experienced, which is as open-minded and unassuming as possible. Don’t go to The Witness. Let The Witness come to you.
[This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]