The Witness is a puzzle wrapped in a puzzle inside a puzzle


Does the game have achievements? Seems like problem solved.


Zen and Science


Effectively no achievements. Just to finish the game and beating all puzzle content.


The achievement set is different on PS4, it's a far more extensive set. But yes only 2 achievements on PC


"The cutscenes are like Woody Allen’s documentary in Crimes and Misdemeanors, in which his character just runs footage of some elderly intellectual prattling on. It’s fascinating to him. He can’t comprehend that it wouldn’t be fascinating to everyone else."

Is this in Crimes and Misdemeanors? I've never seen that film (I know, I know) but the situation you are describing sounds EXACTLY like the documentary Ben Stiller's character is making in While We're Young. Do you think that subplot is Noah Baumbach, chronicler of the lives of neurotic upper-class New Yorkers, tipping his hat to the master of the genre?


Excellent call, wykstrad! But I think more people have seen Crimes and Misdemeanors.


To me the bigger question was time, not money. Once you get to a certain age where you have a job that pays decently you realize that $20 or $40 is neither here nor there in the grand scheme of things so long as you aren't frivolous with your spending. Time, on the other hand, becomes more restrictive as the years you have left on this Earth with an able body appear to dwindle. People complained about Bastion and Braid's high price point-to-time played ratio but I was actually happy that some game designers trimmed the fat and aren't wasting my time. So my question whether to buy this game was whether or not to get invested time-wise into a game, knowing full well that most games are addictive.

Anyhow, I did buy the game and after playing I no longer agree with what I said above. I think Tom Chick is on the money about this being an airy grouping of exercises akin to picking up a crossword puzzle book or doing the newspaper Sudoku. Blow adds some philosophical sprinklings in the form of recordings, but they are more like torn pages from a library scattered on an island or epitaphs on monuments than any real meaningful thing. Still, I think Blow wants these puzzles to speak for themselves. There's no music, little ambient noise, no plot, no characters, and even the scenery is interesting only in that it holds more puzzles in it, bright enough to not convey anything sad but instead is just emotionally empty.

To Tom Chick that isn't enough to provide a motivation for playing. I've only solved the easy puzzles (I guess? I'm a weekend's worth into playing) and I do feel compelled to continue. But I wonder when I inevitably hit that road block if I will lose interest as there is nothing beneath the surface that is compelling. That's different from Talos or Braid or Myst, or any of these other puzzle games where there's much more motivation to break through that wall. I may grow to dislike the pointlessness of these puzzle language-building exercises and Chick's review serves as a good warning.


I haven't completed the game, but from what I can analyze thus far is that The Witness is Johnathan Blow's meditation on the language of puzzles. Blow will give you a maze to solve with a symbol and the puzzle's impossible to get wrong. Right next to it he'll give a second one where you have 2-4 possibilities, roughly half of which will be right. Between the first and second maze you'll deduce what the symbol means. Then there'll be a third maze where there's many different routes but only a few solutions, yet the puzzle is easy to logically deduce. Then a fourth puzzle that has one distinct variant from the third but the answer is totally different. Your brain has to destroy the previous solution (every time I get to the fourth puzzle there's always this urge to just put in the answer that was the third, yet I know it must be wrong) and construct from the beginning a new logical pathway to solving the maze. Then you have to solve a fifth maze which has a complication from the previous puzzles in which you learn a nuanced rule. Then more iterations, right in a row, where you practice solving puzzles that have these complications.

Blow has given a bunch of talks about Braid where he discusses this philosophy of puzzles. To him. puzzles should teach you something. I don't agree with him in the least, but there's something interesting about his perspective.

The rest of this game is detailed and colorful but there's really nothing to it. Blow doesn't care about teaching any philosophy or worldview other than providing an environment to learn the many puzzles he wishes to teach.

I do wonder if his game will perhaps alter the way we teach language. Is there a way to use Blow's process to pick up languages quickly? Maybe complex logic-based things like calculus or biology? Perhaps there is a real-world application to this game. But, as Tom Chick notes above, for the most part the game has no real worldview position.


Even though it's superficially like Myst (alone on an island, no instructions), the gameplay is actually specifically designed to make up for Myst's deficiencies. There are "tutorial puzzles" for each element which explain in a step-by-step fashion (without any words no less) exactly how each mechanic works.

Generally there is not a question of how the rules work, but they are implemented in ways that will subvert your expectations.

I'm not saying you will love the game, but I wouldn't discount it if you're worried about having to discover the mechanics on your own. Most of the time, the answer is actually in plain sight, it just that you don't recognize that you are looking at it.


Thanks, desantoos! That was exactly the kind of description and interpretation that I was looking for. It confirms that I won't have any interest in further investigating the game.


If I am ever stuck in an adventure or puzzle game, it's because I missed something in plain sight, so that's not exactly reassuring.


Fair point, but what I mean is that it is a logical step you will be missing, rather than just not realizing that you can interact with an object or that there is a passageway you missed.

Since there is no inventory, and literally every interaction that you have in the world is done in the context of line puzzles (even simple things like light switches), there is zero ambiguity about the puzzles.

So while its certainly possible to get stuck, it's the same way you might get stuck in Portal or Talos Principle. It's unambiguous what has to happen, although you could definitely just not realize the clues that are there.

In some ways, it's an "out of the box thinking" simulator in that it challenges everyone to break out of their regular mindset. Everyone will get stuck at different places depending on how their mind works.


The point of this game is simple ..... can you finish the challenge of the island? No twitch shooting, no dodging and attacking. Only the power of observation and deduction will get you through the challenge.

THAT is called originality my friend. THAT is what 0.1% of games have.

You don't need a story, let the Uncharted's and the Witcher 3's do that.


"But as a game that does nothing other than teach you how to play, it is perhaps the most meaningless game I’ve ever played.."

To be fair, The Witness does have a larger, but pretty obscure point to it. (And it's a bit tiresome to anyone who has graduated college and decided that cod-philosophy and experimental film are really just not-very-interesting ways for undergraduates to sound smart. And dear god The Witness does go on, and on, and on.) But, rhythm games like Guitar Hero fall into the category of games that do nothing other than teach you how to play. I mean yes, there's this ridiculous garage-to-stadium narrative accompanying it, but GH strikes me as the same sort of thing: you think you're learning something and gaining all this skill, but it's utterly useless outside of the game context.

The Witness strikes me most profoundly in its meta-message about the compactness of ideas. Here you have a game that draws out tens of hours of content out of line mazes. I would've thought that line mazes could be exhausted as an idea in 2 or 3 minutes: you can make them bigger, look more complicated, make the lines curvy, add dead-ends and red herrings, and.. well what else? It turns out that there's tons else, and that in addition to exploring the idea itself in countless iterations, you can spin it out to see how it interacts with its context and even make wider inferences from it about culture and beauty and etc. (I believe I've seen a lengthy Richard Feynman video somewhere that references this idea.) It's kind of remarkable to see how far the team behind the game can take the idea from its simple starting point. It's almost enough to make you believe you actually can construct a virtual model of the universe by examining a piece of fairy cake.

And I'm really really glad that I beat that twig puzzle last night before reading your review.


it's a shame that the reviewer could not see past just the puzzle boards. There is so much more to this game than what meets the eye. But you need to spend a pretty fair amount of time playing to begin to put things together. But there is still some unknown, letting the player create their own theory as to what is going on. You can have a different experience than someone else playing. Pretty sad to know you think the game is meaningless, it is just a game that requires the player to be very perceptive to understand it. @tomchick:disqus


Yikes. I thought Myst was incredibly dull and sterile. If this is even more so, it's not for me.


Exactly what I was thinking Cam. Cause I really though some of the segmented puzzle areas are really profound in their resolutions. How they evolve on a simple mechanic, and how the iteration to complexity itself forms a sense of narrative. I still can't believe a reviewer wouldn't be able to comment on this aspect let alone recognize this fact.


I agree with pretty much everything you say in this well thought out review, but I actually enjoy The Witness. I'd be tempted to give it an N/A if I had to write a review and give a number score, since the enjoyment you'll get out of the game totally depends on the kind of person you are.


Might I interest you in this brand new thing called Sudoku? It's super original and daring.


Sudoku style puzzles (with 10x the variation) in an open world island would be awesome actually!