I have a notebook full of scribbles.
If someone unfamiliar with my reasoning for filling said notebook with crudely drawn nonsense were to flick through it, they wouldn’t be blamed for worrying they had just outed a serial killer, albeit one obsessed with scratching obtuse looking grids onto their victim’s skin.
Instead, I’ve been playing The Witness, the long-in-development puzzle game by Braid creator Jonathan Blow, a game so wonderfully frustrating that I now believe solving an actual murder would not only be easier, but arguably preferable to the mental torture I’ve been enduring since the game’s initial release last month.
The Witness is a game about drawing lines. You start at point A, and are tasked with drawing a line to point B, all whilst adhering to a set of ever changing rules and parameters. Basically, you do this…
.. for around 100 or so hours… and you know what? It’s incredible.
Blow and his team have created something magic. The core mechanic of The Witnessis simple, yet so versatile in how it can be modified throughout the extent of the game that it feels very nearly like the most perfectly crafted game play element ever created.
Each puzzle is (primarily) represented as an electronic panel, clusters of which are placed within specific and unique areas of the game’s sprawling open world location.
Each area introduces a new element that modifies the puzzles in a unique way, and slowly but surely teaches you how to solve this variation through doing rather than simply by telling. If you get stuck? Well, then that’s just the way it is. Feel free to walk off to a new location, to find a new collection of puzzles, but don’t expect anything in the form of hints or on-screen prompts to assist you with your troubles. The Witnessis confident that what it has already told you is enough for you to progress, and doesn’t take kindly to those who grow quickly frustrated.
The game’s obtuse nature, however infuriating it may often appear, is perhaps its greatest strength. I spent more time shouting at the screen, angrily drawing grids in my notebook and storming off in a huff trying to solve a puzzle than I care to admit, but when I finally heard the satisfying click of a line reaching its goal? It is perhaps one of the most incredible feelings a game has ever evoked from me. It is pure joy.
The Witness’s location, the “island” (mysterious, richly detailed and stunninglyrealised) is a tightly constructed marvel. Despite feeling a little sterile at times, the world of the Witness is a master-class in both its structure and visual design.
From its swamp to its forests, its quarry to its castle, The Witness certainly offers up a diverse range of locales for you to puzzle yourself silly within. Every tree, rock and waterfall feel so carefully places that even the simple act of exploring is as much of a reward as completing any of the puzzles you’ll inevitably encounter along the way.
The only consistency shared with all of the island’s many areas is the game’s incredible use of colour. The Witness is, put simply, one of the most beautiful games I’ve ever had the pleasure of experiencing.
The Witness is one of the best video games I’ve ever played.
It’s beautiful. It’s uniquely rewarding. It’s special. It’s quite simply a masterpiece.
It’s also frustrating.
So very, very frustrating.