Review of The Witness - Dark Souls puzzle games

Author: Czarny Wilk
Date: 2016-02-03 07:49:00
The review was based on the PC version. Also applies to PS4, XONE versions

400 solved puzzles, 30 cards with strange drawings, one "tetris" laid on the floor with the above-mentioned pieces of paper and one night full of dreams about panels with labyrinths - three days spent in intensive playing in The Witness , the latest production of Braid's author Jonathan Blow, they were definitely not normal. So much so that when finally, after many moments of frustration and just as much satisfaction, I watched a highly ambiguous ending and then an even more ambiguous hidden ending, I was not even entirely sure whether I loved the game or hated it. After calmly analyzing your own thoughts, in the end I find it a great title - but ... only for a very small audience. For most, it will be "just" or "until" a very good puzzle game.

The Witness makes an exceptionally positive first impression, after a few moments spent by us in a dark tunnel, attacking with a riot of pastel colors - viewing the terrain full of vivid, bright colors is a real pleasure for the eyes. The game does not use any fancy graphic effects or an advanced physics engine, but it more than makes up for it with the number of details filling the virtual world and the taste with which numerous models have been designed and integrated into the surroundings .

When, after a dozen or so minutes from the start of the game, we leave the initial area of the game and the entire island that is the place of the action appears in front of us, until we do not know where to go first - every building or forest looming in the distance tempts and encourages us to visit this area next . Peek into a pink forest or an abandoned quarry? Or maybe explore partially buried ruins protruding from the sands of the desert? Or try to get to the half-sunken tanker wreck? For the first moments spent with The Witness, you ignore the numerous boards with riddles here and take pleasure in peaceful exploration. Which, moreover, rewarding careful players with scraps of the plot presented with the help of statues or dictaphones with recorded quotes of famous thinkers found here and there. I would not mind if, after the passing of retro and pixel art fashion, independent productions turned to such relatively simple, but nice and numerous three-dimensional models.

When the admiration for the artistry with which the environment was created fades away, we remember that The Witness is a puzzle game, not a walking simulator. At first glance, it is the production of one trick, and in addition, much less effective than time manipulation in Braida or the title portals created by Valve. Well, the whole island is full of electronic panels, on the screens of which we see simple labyrinths, and our goal is to find the way from A to B. However, it soon turns out that the team led by Jonathan Blow discovered enormous potential in this seemingly banal concept and used it to create really diverse challenges.

The first, simple panels are gradually expanded with new elements - for example, the boards gain multicolored squares, which we have to separate from each other with the line drawn by the cursor. Or we are doing the task of recreating figures alive taken out of Tetris . These obvious examples may not sound very impressive, but I wouldn't want to reveal too much, because The Witness 's big advantage is the way the game teaches us how to approach new challenges - there are no tutorials or a voice from heaven telling you what to do . Instead, each type of puzzle has its own series of panels on which we solve puzzles of a given type of increasing difficulty - starting from child's play to really complicated. In this very clever way, we learn specific rules and prepare for truly difficult puzzles. This mechanism brilliantly uses the hidden ending (or according to some - it's the right one), which theoretically can be known even at the very beginning of the game - but to figure out how to activate it, you must first understand the rules governing the game.

The Witness has a total of 650 puzzles to solve . Luckily, you don't have to deal with them all to finish the game - my finish counter was 400 successes, and I squeezed much more than the minimum required to see the ending. And this "fortunately" is used here on purpose, because towards the end I felt real tiredness. Although The Witness proves to be a very good teacher of panel mechanics, it will not make us geniuses by itself - and the difficulty level of many puzzles just overwhelmed me, and it felt like playing Dark Souls , which requires a quick mind instead of outstanding manual skills.

Sometimes it was helpful to take a longer break, other times to draw everything on a piece of paper, sometimes even laying paper blocks on the floor worked - but there were also some challenges that I didn't complete despite sitting over them for over an hour. I like to strain my mind, but the difficulty level of Thekel's production at times turned out to be too high and frustrating . The other thing is, once I managed to solve what seemed unsolvable, the satisfaction was gigantic. This is one of those titles that taste much better when dosed in small portions, instead of having to deal with hours of mental marathons with them - but even so, I am inclined to say that for a large number of players it will be too tiring and difficult position.

My private nightmare was that, despite the extreme difficulty level, The Witness is engaging and really willing to take on the challenges of Blow production. I still haven't solved a few puzzles, but I will probably do it - spending hours on them, getting irritated, and after drawing the right line, feeling like a fool. Only to finally - because every puzzle in this game can be worked out - to feel a huge, though lasting only a few minutes, satisfaction with success. After which there will be a fight with the next of hundreds of panels. Geniuses and masochists are sure to have fun.

The Witness can be completed by completely setting aside the story told by the game. You can also not ignore it, and still end the fun, having no idea what it is about - the plot is presented only with the help of sculptures and dictaphones found in locations, and the image emerging from them seems quite cloudy and possible to interpret on really many ways . I have no doubt that some players will find genius in all of this - but it will be the same percentage of users who saw in Braida a story of regret over building an atomic bomb. For those who dislike over-interpreting scraps of information and creating fancy theories out of them, the plot, if they manage to put it together at all, will prove to be uninteresting and rather disappointing.

Some people will consider the latest production of Jonathan Blow to be absolutely outstanding, another proof that computer games are art, and they will probably treat the assessment visible in this review as unfair. However, to join this group, it is required to have at least two of the three rather rare character traits at the same time - above-average intellect, angelic patience and a passion for an in-depth analysis of (pop) culture. Without such a set, The Witness will seem "only" a pretty good, long and very nice puzzle game. And also extremely difficult, if you want to get to know her fully.