Intro and Gameplay
The Indie game scene owes a lot to Sir Jonathan Blow as his 2008 release, Braid, really skyrocketed the movement and his own success as a developer and game designer. I remember playing Braid, I quite enjoyed it so I was anxious to dive into his latest genre twisting creation, The Witness. Well, being part puzzle solving and part exploration/walking sim, this is quite a difficult game to categorize and even harder to review and score. Buckle up kids, this is not your average review, especially from what reception to the game I've seen so far.
One of the biggest reasons that any of us, especially myself, play games is to feel rewarded and sometimes, escape to a virtual world. Whether it's a loot based game where I get the slot machine effect or an epic adventure where I feel like I'm actually engaged in the world, there has to be some payoff. There hasn't been any other game in recent memory where I've felt as unrewarded as I have with The Witness. While exploration and the atmosphere are engaging in their own right, the fact that almost every puzzle feels the same, it starts to feel more like work than a reward.. Initially, I felt elated after solving a few puzzles but after I realized, hey, this is practically the same thing over and over just in different areas of the island, all elation disappeared..
Now don't get me wrong, I love the Myst series which has to be compared here but each puzzle was at least different. Here, it's basically trace a line from A to B, usually with some sort of symmetry trick involved. "SWEET! I just solved a puzzle so I can move to the next area! Oh, wait, it's just another door with another puzzle that is almost identical." While some might find this engaging, I just couldn't find the appeal in something so repetitive and lacking in engrossing activities with little payoff.
Graphics and Sound
Opposite of the derivative gameplay, the world created here is absolutely stunning in a graphical and artistic sense. Now, on PC, there is almost no graphical options which I find puzzling (pun!) for a $40 game, but after tweaking an option file, I was able to get it to run in 4K. As demonstrated on the screenshots provided, this is a work of art in every sense of the word. Hence my sadness when strolling through the dreamy world was a pleasure yet these pesky puzzles kept getting in the way...
Audio-wise, this title is also of the highest quality and I have zero complaints. I felt absolutely engaged in the audiovisual sense the whole time I played, and it's a testament to the fact that if the gameplay isn't engaging, there is just a sense of "all for naught".
Fun and Conclusion
Well, this was a tough review to write. This game represents years and years of effort from a person and I don't want to diminish those efforts. I REALLY wanted to love to this game and by the end, I just wanted to even like it, but I just couldn't arrive to that point. Some may say I am missing the point or I just didn't give the game a fair chance. Regardless, my responsibility as a reviewer is to share my opinion, but also inform our audience on what games deserve your valuable time and money. Imagine Myst, with practically the same puzzles in every area. Imagine The 7th Guest with the same cake puzzle a semi different skin on it throughout the whole house. At this time, I can't recommend The Witness. It seems like a wasted opportunity and at a $39.99 price point, it's value proposition is extremely suspect. Is the game fun? I didn't think so at all despite finding the world gorgeous and engaging as a whole. The puzzles and core gameplay though based around symmetrical puzzles, felt extremely tedious by the end. If you love puzzles mostly focused around symmetry, this game is for you. If the above screenshot looks enticing to you, be my guest and dive right in but you've been warned as there are much better games out there for 40 bucks.