(opens in new tab) on the new , (opens in new tab) The Witness is a compelling puzzle game from Jonathan Blow and the team at Thekla, Inc. Players are deposited on a beautiful island and given no direction at all as they wander the environment in search of answers to questions they may not initially even know enough to ask. The game is intriguing for many reasons, but perhaps most especially because it trusts players to figure things out on their own, without a barrage of unnecessary tutorials.
As the game begins, you find yourself at one end of a tunnel. There's nothing worthwhile behind you, so you start forward and soon reach the far end, where interacting with a door allows you to exit through a hatch and emerge at the edge of a clearing. Crumbling ruins greet you, overgrown with grass and brush, draped with cables that run between mysterious terminals. Those cables are deactivated at the moment, but you can change that.
Working your way through the environment, you find additional strange devices. Interacting with them brings glowing lights to life, and you solve a simple puzzle. With that task completed, yet another puzzle appears. You keep clearing subsequent challenges, until finally a nearby cable glows to indicate that electricity now flows through it. You follow the cable, trace it around obstructions, and it leads you to another terminal. There are still more puzzles to solve.
The game doesn't throw menus at you. It doesn't even require that you solve the puzzles in a particular order. If you grow bored of the puzzles in that first meadow, or around its outskirts, you can wander until you find more buildings, or even an entire town with abandoned streets and a fortress towering above it. Everywhere you go, there are new puzzles and spectacular sights to take in, and nothing gets between you and your exploration and wonder. You do what you want to do, within a breathtaking world.
The typical puzzle is simple enough, but that first phase is only the beginning. You learn that you can guide a ball through a maze, for instance. Then you learn to control two balls at once, as they converge from opposing sides of the grid. Then one of them disappears and suddenly serves as an obstacle as you continue your search for solutions. Those non-existent tutorial prompts aren't missed because they aren't necessary; you know enough to take the next few steps forward, and even if you don't, you can always search the area around you to find clues. You just have to be ready to look for them, to be curious.
In an age when many games avoid letting players move far in a virtual world without encountering constant sign posts and instructions, The Witness is a truly special experience. It's more immersive than most games you've likely played in the last few years. It's a joy to look at, but more satisfying still to conquer. Give it a try today and find out whether you have what it takes to see every last vista, and to solve each puzzle. You'll be glad you did.
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