The Witness Preview
You know, I couldn’t do Braid. It made me feel like a complete idiot. But it’s odd how the human mind works and your mental strengths and weaknesses often come to light when playing puzzle games. For while Jonathan Blow’s very well-received Braid didn’t click with me (despite a few small early successes), other puzzlers – like Portal 2 and Echochrome – had a profound impact. Not only did my brain more easily embrace these challenges, but I also felt as if I understood the designer’s thought process behind the game. In looking at Blow’s next effort, The Witness, I’m excited because this time…well, it looks like I’ll get it. It looks like I’ll love it.
As you’ve probably already heard, The Witness boasts a whopping 677 puzzles and Blow has said we should expect 30-40 hours of total gameplay. Obviously, the amount of required time will be highly dependent on the aforementioned “click;” i.e., if the puzzle structure and concept click with you, it’ll take you a lot less time. Personally, I’m hoping for that sweet spot, where you’re at first a little confused and then, as your eyes rove about, you start to see the light. First in hints and glimmers, then in that rapidly dawning birth of comprehension that is just so fulfilling. Just remember that in this case, we’re talking about a full 3D open-world environment where the puzzles go above and beyond. Translation: This isn’t your typical puzzle game.
The adventure will be minimalist in regards to narrative, of course, but this wildly ambitious and ultra-colorful landscape will be chock full of possibilities. You can pick apart this world in whichever order you choose (freedom is even a driving force behind puzzle games these days), so where you choose to go and what you choose to do is entirely in your power. I’ve heard comparisons to the old-school Myst, in that the immersive environment is perhaps even more involving than you might think. In fact, there will be nearly a dozen uniquely-themed regions and each area has its own original set of puzzles. From deserts and swamps to mountains and fields, it’s a natural tour de force of imagery fused with puzzle-solving goodness. Find a secret path, wander over yonder to check out the castle; it’s all up to you.
As I said, you can attempt any puzzle at any time. If you think one is just too much of a bear, you can go elsewhere and try something else. And in truth, you don’t need to conquer all 11 areas to finish the game, as you’ll trigger the endgame activities once you’ve completed 7 regions. Obviously, those who push themselves to the limits and are able to finish more puzzles will be justly rewarded. You can bet on a wide difficulty range, as some puzzles shouldn’t give anyone too much trouble, while others might feel all but impossible. Blow was recently quoted as saying there's “at least one puzzle” that almost nobody will finish; perhaps less than 1 percent of all players. That might be off-putting to some but to those with the never-say-die approach to puzzlers, it’s like throwing down the gauntlet.
The Witness will have been in development for over five years by the time it lands at the end of January for PlayStation 4 and PC. Blow and Co. have definitely worked hard to produce a hugely challenging and wonderfully diverse game with excellent bang for your buck. Blow said he completed a speed run at under six and a half hours and at that point, he said the game was about "10x the size" of Braid. Me, I’m not too worried about the length; I’m much more interested in this luscious, various open-world environment that’s just begging to be conquered. I just wonder if some will get frustrated without any direction whatsoever… That lack of direction can also contribute to aimless wandering and a growing sense of disinterest and detachment, but I’m guessing the design will be plenty intuitive.
Put aside some time to attempt The Witness in the dead of winter. Any success will translate to the warming glow of satisfaction.
11/18/2015 Ben Dutka