The Witness - Review
In a perfect world, my review of The Witness would end here. Really. There is not much more to say. Jonathan Blow is a work that arouses emotions, like a romantic painting, and it is difficult to pigeonhole it in the sterile categories we are used to. These have been years of great growth, for my favorite hobby, and in many ways The Witness seems to me to be a point of arrival, a milestone. We always knew that video games had something to say, but being in front of such a mature and refined work of art is unsettling.
I do not like to make these speeches, because the risk that pass through the usual intellectual pippers for fart sniffers is always real. Indeed, I am often the first to point the finger at those who fill their mouths with the word "art", as if they had a sacred power, capable of giving cultural dignity to a childish pastime such as video games. But The Witness deserves all the big words in the world. I have been waiting for him religiously since the first time I saw him, and the wait was rewarded.
In Jonathan Blow's new fantasy we find ourselves on an island, apparently deserted, without explanation. There are no tutorials, bright letters or off-screen items. The player is abandoned to his loneliness and must understand what to do with his digital life. The game world is full of small puzzles, all with a similar format: grids, with starting and finishing points, in which to trace paths. The basis is disarming simplicity, but the game is not only about solving puzzles, it is also about understanding the rules.
As you walk around the island, the puzzles are enriched with new elements, which form a rigorous and multifaceted grammar of gameplay. Freedom of movement is total, but to open certain doors, which are immediately accessible, you need to have understood a series of concepts, far from trivial. From this point of view, the elegance of The Witness is out of scale: the puzzles are all based on the same concept, but continue to amaze and make the gray matter "sweat", without ever becoming repetitive or frustrating.
Exploring the island you understand the reason for the very long period of development. On a technical level there is nothing shocking (in fact, we can assume that the definitive look of the game had been ready for more than two years), but the attention to detail is obsessive. Even going beyond the impeccable progression of the puzzles, there are dozens of subtleties that betray all the love instilled by Blow and associates in The Witness.
The perfect example is ambient audio, without music, which reproduces with a more real than realism the sound of footsteps on different materials, the wind between the branches and the sounds of the sea. The game is full of invisible excellences like this, which together create a touching and unforgettable experience. Even The Talos Principle, Croteam's recent masterpiece, doesn't stand up to comparison. The two games are similar, but the infinite care of The Witness has an extra spark of genius and madness.
Jonathan Blow is a brave designer, capable of putting together such a great game and at the same time so bizarre and misunderstanding. I'm sure there will be arid hearts in the world capable of storing it as a series of annoying and repetitive puzzles, but rightly so. The Witness conveys the message of its author, like a book or a record, and the fact that it is not universally and objectively "beautiful" is part of its charm. Personally, I can say that there was no better way to start my videogame 2016, and that I can't wait to find out what the future of this great game designer has in store for us.
I played The Witness on PS4, with a code received directly from Sony. I tried it both alone and in the company of my better half. Like other similar games, puzzles are great for solo sessions as well as for cooperation. I played for about twenty hours (although it is difficult to keep track of the weather on the island), but I have not even come close to completing it 100%. According to Jonathan Blow it has been a feat for at least 80 hours and, judging from what I have seen, the figure seems more than plausible to me.