When I first saw Jonathan Blow’s passion project take form, I was reminded of Myst. Growing up, I struggled to make sense of Myst’s obtuse environmental puzzles and mysterious story. I’ve always wanted to go back and experience it now that I’m armed with years of video game puzzle solving skills, but I never had the chance. The Witness was my chance to go back, to enter a world of mystery where every action led me down a different path and showed me another glimpse of its magical world.
But after playing a handful of hours, I’ve realized that my expectations were off. The Witness places its focus squarely on the puzzles -- puzzles that all take the same basic shape. Sure, the world is absolutely gorgeous, and there’s something forlorn about wandering about in complete solitude, but the game has yet to really draw me in. I’ve completed my fair share of the 600+ line puzzles that populate the world, and while I can appreciate how the rules build on one another, I haven’t found any sort of sublime satisfaction in completing a difficult puzzle. Instead, I’ve grown more and more frustrated as I repeatedly get stuck on a puzzle, solve it, and then move on only to find another series of similar puzzles in my way. I still want to continue forward, but I fear that I'll never find the larger meaning I'm looking for. The world seems like a living place; one that you’d expect to become a character itself. But instead, it’s just a sterile container for hundreds of puzzles that could have stood on their own.
I think The Witness could appeal to a particular type of gamer. In fact, it obviously does. Jonathan Blow announced today on Twitter that it’s on pace to make more money in its first week than Braid did in its first year. The game has garnered overwhelmingly positive reviews from most of the games press including a perfect 10/10 from IGN. I just can’t help but want more. Perhaps I’ll find satisfaction as I dig deeper and unravel some of the larger mysteries of the game’s island, like a series of light beams aimed at an enormous peak. Perhaps this just isn’t the type of game I enjoy.
Either way, The Witness is a unique type of game in many regards -- its content, its development, even its price point. I’d urge everyone to try it. Just know that it may be a different game than you expected.