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The Witness (2016)
Bar Harbor
My current gaming obsession is The Witness. I have not yet discovered all of its secrets, but I have found enough to want to talk about it, and to highly recommend it.

In form, The Witness owes a significant chunk of its DNA to Myst. You find yourself upon an apparently deserted island with some beautiful scenery, some puzzling mechanisms, and a few hints that there is a larger narrative story behind it all. The puzzles, however, are more structured than those in Myst. The first door you come to teaches you to draw a line from an open circle to an endpoint. Every other puzzle is an elaboration upon this. There are the expected variations of size and shape, a variety of symbols which impose constraints on how the line must be drawn, and so on. What I was not expecting, however, was the way in which the… level upon which the puzzle solving happens changes multiple times over the course of the game.

The game encourages, sometimes in audio or video format, but more significantly in terms of the gameplay itself, a mix of scientific and Zen thought. It carefully teaches you how to make and test hypotheses – and also how you must sometimes abandon hypotheses in favor of perceiving the actual world in front of you. Eventually, you will come to expect certain things from the game. Most of them are there, somewhere, or the game will teach you to stop expecting them. Play this game enough, and you will begin to see the world in different ways (and not just through the desire to draw lines on everything!).

I do have to dock a few points for accessibility. There are a few puzzles based on sound; even if you have good hearing, as I do, these may prove quite difficult/impossible if you are not good at identifying pitch. Some other puzzles require fine-grained color differentiation which will cause problems for some varieties of colorblindness. A very few puzzles near the end of the game contain elements of flashing light which might be dangerous for some kinds of epilepsy. And a very few puzzles contain timed elements, requiring not just cleverness, but speed. That said, several of these difficulties can be mitigated by judicious use of Internet spoilers.

I do recommend resisting spoilers. There are only rare situations where a single puzzle is a bottleneck. Most of the time it is quite viable, when apparently stuck, to employ the “go do something else and come back later” strategy without even leaving the game. And, indeed, I frequently had the experience of a seemingly-insoluble puzzle cracking instantly when I came back to it.

There are a mere two achievements on Steam. The first is titled “Endgame”, which is a lie. It does commemorate a significant landmark, and you could stop there if you wanted, but there is much left to discover. Steam tells me I got that achievement at the 24 hour mark; I have now played for 48, and think I may be closing in on “completely done”. I still haven’t gotten that second achievement. There are many puzzles and story elements that I don’t think are actually accessible until after “Endgame”. If you haven’t both “walk through the credits” and spent a goodly time listening to “Hall of the Mountain King”, then you definitely aren’t done yet. The vast majority of that time was racked up in 30 minute chunks, so even as a busy adult, it should be playable.

The Witness is available on multiple platforms. It sometimes comes around on the Humble Bundle (which is how I got it). It is Highly Recommended.

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