The Witness is a puzzle game that makes The Talos Principle look like a puzzle game for babies! Ok, maybe that’s a bit of an overstatement, but it really does outdo it in just about every way.
First off, the graphics are fucking amazing. With full 4K and HDR effects (yes, I’m probably going to keep mentioning that for quite a while still), this is one of the most beautiful looking game worlds ever seen. The mysterious island is full of a variety of amazing looking environments, almost all of which you can explore at will from the beginning (after the brief enclosed entry area), and they’re an impressive enough feat on their own just in a visual sense, but when you realize just how insanely intricate the puzzle-ecosystem of this island is, well, it’s one the best arguments for video games as art I’ve ever seen (since we still live in a society packed full of so many evolutionary dead ends that that’s even still an argument).
Anyway, there are hundreds and hundreds of puzzles, which seem nice and simple at first, but grow increasingly complex and obtuse. I’d say that the main difference in approach between this and Talos Principle, is that in Talos Principle the rules are laid out very clearly for you from the beginning, it’s figuring out how to implement those rules in a physical environment that’s the problem, but it’s the opposite in The Witness. The puzzles are all the same simple looking slider interfaces, but as you progress through the various areas, new symbols keep appearing, bringing new rules every time, and it’s entirely up to you to figure out what the hell they are. Clues might be all around you in strange forms in the environment, or you might just not have been to the area that features the tutorial-like introductory puzzles associated with the symbol in question yet.
On top of all the “obvious” puzzle panels all over the place, there are also nutty environmental puzzles hidden all over the place, which are only vaguely hinted at via mysterious obelisks around the island. Once you know what to look for, you’ll be surprised at how often you start finding them on your own, sitting right there in plain sight all over the place, but there are plenty more that are just in ridiculously obscure locations that I don’t even know how people found.
Yeah, I had to look up a lot more things in this game than I did in Talos Principle, that’s for sure. I did every damn puzzle though, both regular and environmental, AND I even did the super tough cheat-proof challenge where you have to solve 15 puzzles within a time limit of a few minutes, with each puzzle being randomly generated each time, so there’s no looking up answers possible. I tell you, I almost ragequit that one, but I finally did it, after more hours than I’d care to admit.
Funny thing is, none of it even really mattered. There’s no story at all and so no reward of any kind for doing all this extraneous stuff. When you beat the game you get in a flying box that takes you all around the island as you watch everything you did be undone and end up dropped right back where the game started without even so much as a “congratulations.” I suppose that’s the whole point, to mock the foolishness of looking for meaning where there is none, because like real life, there is no satisfying ultimate answer, despite its baffling level of complexity, it’s just there to be interacted with for as much enjoyment as you can get out of it before it all ends. At least that’s what I took from it, given all the many little hidden audio logs and videos with empirically scientific and atheistic themes.