Jonathan Blow’s Myst-inspired open-world puzzler has a simple premise – find one of the games many sequential square grids and trace a line(s) from one corner of it to another.
While philosophical musings on tapes littered around The Witness’s world point to larger questions about creators and created realities, the game’s real triumph is its singular focus on being an extended, exquisitely beautiful logic test.
With no tutorial, HUD or inventory, The Witness is video game minimalism played across a broad stage. Set in a pastel-shaded environment of varied flora and architecture, the lack of distinct ‘levels’ makes way for a fluid exploratory experience where a particularly challenging puzzle can be left alone to be mulled over, or returned to after broadening your knowledge in a different part of The Witness’s sprawling island.
And what fine puzzles they are. With the best moments coming from first-hand experience of the ways the game subverts its own rules, I’ll just say that if the satisfaction of the ‘eureka’ moments are the definition of success in a puzzle game, The Witness sits comfortably alongside Portal and Tetris as one of the genre’s finest.
While there’s an underlying pretentiousness to proceedings, it never threatens to overpower the joy felt at overcoming a seemingly impossible obstacle – an issue that made the latter stages of Blow’s overwhelming successful debut Braid a little hard to stomach.
Here Blow isn’t an arch figure designing trials, but a cautious and curious teacher and guide, backing off as you find your feet and asking you to think outside the box, or outside the lines as it were.
“You cannot take hold of it, but equally you cannot get rid of it”, recounts one tape and it’s a sentiment that perfectly attributes itself to the 20-30 hours you’ll spend on The Witness’s hallowed ground as a rhythm becomes set in your head: just one last puzzle, just one more eureka.
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