Game review: This Witness is slow to reveal its hidden secrets

The Witness Thekla For PlayStation 4, PC Four stars Independent video-game designers have hit upon a fascinating way to create buzz: don’t give players all the answers. That opens up a game beyond the actual experience of playing it, as players flock to online message boards to debate the deeper meanings of what they’ve just […]

The Witness

Thekla

For PlayStation 4, PC

Four stars

Independent video-game designers have hit upon a fascinating way to create buzz: don’t give players all the answers.

That opens up a game beyond the actual experience of playing it, as players flock to online message boards to debate the deeper meanings of what they’ve just seen.

I’d guess that many of the people who bought recent indie hits such as Her Story, Soma and Journey have spent more time arguing about them than playing them.

One of the pioneers of this trend is Jonathan Blow, whose time-warping puzzle game Braid baffled millions in 2008.

The story in that game was unapologetically ambiguous, with interpretations ranging from a tale of love gone sour to a retelling of the creation of the atomic bomb.

Blow took his time crafting a ­follow-up but has finally re-emerged with The Witness. It is even more bewildering than Braid – and while some of his fans will adore it, many will find it ­infuriating.

The game is set on a lush tropical island dotted with the ruins of a vanished civilisation. Scattered across the island are hundreds of electrified panels, each of which contains a small, two-dimensional puzzle. The vast majority are mazes, and the first few simply ask you to draw a line from start to finish.

But they quickly grow more complex: you may need to separate coloured boxes, or draw the line in such a way as to create certain shapes in the grid.

The devilish gimmick here is that the designers never explain the rules – so when triangles and stars pop up in the mazes you have no idea what they mean. The only way to interpret them is by experimenting – and once you figure out one symbol, Blow has another up his sleeve.

The rewards for your efforts and perseverance vary. Most of the time your prize for solving a puzzle is … another puzzle. Some panels unlock doors or create bridges to new areas. If you solve enough mazes, you’ll activate lasers that converge at a mountaintop, where you’ll find – well, let’s not spoil it too much.

Older gamers will be reminded of the 1993’s classic Myst – indeed, one of the designers is a Myst veteran – although the mythology here isn’t quite as ­elaborate. As a diehard puzzle addict, I initially found The Witness disappointing. The puzzles are generally well-designed but they are almost all mazes – I would have liked a bit more variety. But it has grown on me. I have found it is better appreciated in short bursts: tinker with a few panels until you get stuck and then play something less nerve-racking … such as Call of Duty.

Websites have started posting solutions to some of the most vexing puzzles, so there’s nothing to stop you from seeking help (or cheating, depending on your view of such things).

I’m looking forward to finding out what players think of the broader mystery embedded in the island.

The Witness demands intense levels of patience and concentration – and I’m still not sure whether the pay-off is worth the effort.

* Associated Press

Source: art & life

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