The Witness in the test - a tough nut to crack? 600 tough nuts!

Author: Tobias Veltin, Mirco Kämpfer
Date: 2016-01-27 12:00:00
The Witness looks harmless and has only a simple game mechanic. Nevertheless, it is one of the first PC highlights in 2016. We will explain why in the PC test.

Quo Vadis?

Almost 650 of them are spread across the island (not all of them have to be solved to complete the game). The principle is as simple as it is ingenious . From a starting point, I have to draw a line with the mouse (or a controller) to the destination.

This is still a finger exercise for the first puzzles in the garden of an old building, but it quickly becomes more challenging. Because as soon as I escape the initial area, the whole dimension of the island opens up.

Nice. And heavy.

The Knobelinsel is divided into a total of ten areas , all of which can be reached at any time. For example, there is an Asian-style temple, a desert section, a village with an impressive windmill, a castle and a swamp area.

Everything comes to life with beautiful comic graphics with bright colors that almost make you feel like you're on holiday.

My visual highlights are the bright pink apple tree grove and the rusty shipwreck in the northeast of the island. The rest of the technical implementation is also clean: The Witness runs smoothly, only in isolated moments did I notice a tearing of the picture lines.

look closely

Each area introduces a new puzzle mechanism , which ensures a refreshing change. It is always about drawing lines, but always according to a special principle that I have to develop myself - there are no tutorials or a help option.

Sometimes points have to be collected on the way to the goal, then squares or sun symbols separated, then again I have to pay attention to different colors (but there is no mode for players with weak colors!) Or recognize geometric shapes.

In some areas, it makes sense to observe the environment closely , because it often becomes the decisive game element: rocks, apples, position of the sun, perspective, light and shadow - the solution is often just a train of thought away and is often so simple and at the same time ingenious, that I slapped my forehead several times with the flat of my hand.

These eye-opening moments are incredibly motivating and are probably the greatest strength of The Witness. Because I'm going through an exciting learning process and can transfer my knowledge to later puzzles - because, of course, individual disciplines are also combined with each other, for example geometric shapes and sun symbols.

Hard but fair

The level of difficulty of the control panel puzzles is still quite moderate at first, but then quickly increases. In some places the game even laughs maliciously in my face and is just a new element, as if it knew exactly that my head was bursting in front of the screen and my brain was flipping somersaults.

That is why The Witness reminds me of Dark Souls: It is often merciless and frustrating, but never unfair and always motivating , because every solution is understandable and never taken out of thin air. In addition, I don't have to go through the puzzles one at a time, but can stroll around the island as I please and try another task if I can't get anywhere else.

And then look forward to every little reward that the game serves me in portions. A power line that changes color, for example - or a door that opens squeakily and reveals a secret passage.

The greatest satisfaction is at the end of each section. Once I have solved the last riddle, a mysterious yellow box opens, a spotlight whizzes out and shoots a beam of light at the top of the highest mountain on the island. Another step closer to the solution!

I want to know!

The fascinating thing about The Witness is not only the naturally occurring learning process with constantly recurring eye-opening experiences, but also how the player's curiosity drives the game itself. Although Jonathan Blow's new work doesn't tell a story and, for example, completely dispenses with cutscenes, there are enough questions that I'm sticking to.

For example, what about the stone figures, the painter on the ledge or the man with the chalice in the rock grotto on the beach? What are the strange humming black pillars all over the island? And what do the philosophical quotes in the audiologs tell me that I keep tripping over? The Witness keeps throwing breadcrumbs at me, which I greedily want to follow to the source.

Reach your goal together

Although The Witness is conceived as a pure single player title, it reveals an amazing multiplayer component and has a magical appeal to everyone who only wants to take a look at it. During the test, there are always colleagues behind me, fingers frantically pointing at the screen, everyone wants to puzzle.

"Try it like this," I often hear, more often a "May I?" And rarely a "Aaaaaah, I think I have it!" This is always the start of an idea ping pong, you exchange ideas, try and ponder together. And in the end pats his shoulder enthusiastically when the supposedly unsolvable panel is finally done. Of course, the "Jawoll factor" is also available alone, but it is definitely funnier in the group.

Downsides and PC technology

The Witness also has its weaknesses. The replay value, as is typical of the genre, is kept within narrow limits, because once you go through it, the puzzles do not change. However, until you have solved everything, you can easily schedule 80 to 90 hours of play. In some places I master a riddle and something happens, but I cannot understand what exactly.

The creation of saves is also somewhat opaque: there is basically only one savegame. As soon as I call up the main menu, it is saved. In addition, I noticed that the game creates a new save point after every 100 puzzles solved. After 500 puzzles, I have a total of five saveslots, but only one at the beginning. Stupid that a free memory function is missing.

In addition, I am somewhat disappointed with the rudimentary graphics settings of the PC version. At the start of the game there are only the graphics options »Standard«, »Low«, »Medium« and »High«. I can also set the mouse sensitivity and optional subtitles in the main menu - but that's about it.

Speaking of mouse sensitivity: The general control through the game world and when puzzling works perfectly with mouse and keyboard. Only the game menu was not adapted for the mouse and can only be operated with the keyboard - a small, negligible shortcoming.

However, what annoys me is the lack of music . Although the rest of the soundscape with correct footsteps on different surfaces, birdsong or the sound of the waves is enormously atmospheric, a shallow musical carpet would have given the puzzle fun even more depth. "Only one percent of the players" will solve all puzzles in the game, Jonathan Blow once said. I will make an effort to belong.