Also On: PS4, PC
The Witness is a game that grabs your attention the minute you step foot into the world that has been created for you. Within the first two minutes you come to understand that The Witness is unlike any other game that has come before it and most likely any that will follow for quite a long time. Naysayers will immediately tell you that it is "just a bunch of puzzles", but it is so much more than that wrapped up INSIDE a bunch of puzzles. The puzzles are the route to the soul of this experience; you just have to be willing to work to get to it.
Aesthetically The Witness is an absolute pleasure to behold. Stellar lighting effects and well-designed environments combine to create a feeling of wonder in the player as they begin to explore the world. Puzzles aside, spend some time just walking around marveling at the world you find yourself in. The depth of color and the way the environment changes and moves around you is beautiful, almost dreamlike in some places. Sound plays a large part here as well, a soothing undercurrent of notes and sounds that draw you in and hold you in the time and place that you have discovered. All of these things come together to form a perfect picture of where you are, even if you have no idea who you are or why you are there.
The core of The Witness is the puzzle system. Hundreds upon hundreds of puzzles bar your progress through the island, and hold the key to your success or failure. These obstacles range from childishly simple to mind numbingly difficult to the point you are contemplating making a $60 dollar mistake and ending the life of your poor controller. These are the times to walk away. And I don’t mean from the game, I mean from that particular puzzle. If you find yourself too frustrated to see straight, turn around and walk through the island. More often than not you will find some clue in the environment that subtly guides you to the solution you were looking for. Even if no clue is to be seen, fifteen minutes wandering the island and again, immersing yourself in the beauty of it all is enough to bring you back to your baseline and approach the challenge with fresh eyes and new vigor. You will try a puzzle 99 times and be prepared to give up, then on your last attempt the solution will become painfully clear and smack you in the face. These moments of triumph bring a euphoria that is hard to replicate in other games, certainly in less difficult ones.
The Witness has an abundance of content, and even after 25+ hours I feel I have barely scratched the surface of the secrets the island holds for me. Without a core story or even centralized goals, you can progress at your own pace and go where you choose when you choose to do so. You will come across puzzles to which you do not know the rules and are left with a choice, move on and circle back to that area at a later time or move purposely and find what the rules are to return and test yourself against this new "foe". The feeling of completing a puzzle that you were so clearly not meant to be able to tackle at the point you are in the game is immensely satisfying, and one of the highlights of the game for me.
Allow me to make one thing perfectly clear, I love this game and the challenges it provides and I am giving it high praise as well as a high score, but that does not mean this game is for everyone. It was rather divisive when it first released on PS4 (see Matthew's review here) and is divisive now after the launch on Xbox One. The Witness seems to be either loved or vehemently hated; there is no real middle ground. I don’t think people on either side of that argument are wrong or right. If everyone loved the same things everyone else loved this world would be an extremely boring place. That being said, I think EVERYONE should at least give The Witness a fair shot. Don’t avoid it simply because of bad reviews and don’t try to love it simply because of the good ones. Play it and allow yourself to make a decision of your own and stick by whatever that decision is, regardless of what others say.