The Witness Reviews

Titanium Dragon
Titanium Dragon
TSA Score for this game: 26
Posted on 19 October 17 at 11:22
This review has 4 positive votes and 0 negative votes. Please log in to vote.
The Witness is a pretentious and vague first person puzzle game centered around line-drawing puzzles. Every puzzle in the game is some variant on a puzzle whereby the player drags their mouse across a grid to form a line to some destination point, following certain rules of construction along the way.

The game lacks any real story; you are on a mysterious island, and you explore it. There are various recordings of real-world quotes and even video clips scattered around the island, but all of these are very vague, nebulous, wordy, and ultimately pointless. They are of variable quality; some of them are more interesting than others, but there isn’t any sort of story to the game. The only objective – which is never explicitly stated to the player, as the game is totally lacking in instructions either – is to reveal laser beams which then ultimately open up the area where you solve some puzzles to end the game. There is no real purpose to this; it is all just about solving puzzles.

This, unfortunately, is one of the major problems with the experience; the game is lacking in both story and context, and while some pure puzzle games function in that way, this is a game with a complex 3D environment – its lack of any sort of coherent plot is really puzzling. Worse, because there is no real goal, the game often feels unrewarding – your “prize” for solving puzzles is even more puzzles to solve.

And the puzzles, unfortunately, tend to be pretty repetitive. The game is all about grid-drawing puzzles, with various obstacles thrown in the player’s way. Some of these are rules – you have to make specific shapes with the line, say, or separate out colored dots. Others are the result of literal obstructions – there is something in the way of the puzzle, and so you have to draw around it. Some of the puzzles rely on you looking through them to trace environmental features, or obscure portions of the puzzle from your view, requiring you to deduce what you’re supposed to do. Some involve lining up objects in the environment in order to draw lines across them, and there is a secret set of environmental puzzles which function like a hidden object game, where you click on environmental features and draw lines on them.

While the game manages to mix up the line puzzles much more than one might expect, unfortunately, they still become samey after a while. While many of the puzzles are easy – especially while introducing some new concept – some of them are quite difficult, and while it never takes very long to solve a puzzle in the sense of actually drawing the lines, it can take you a very long time to figure out what, exactly, you are supposed to be doing. Worse, if you are stuck, there is nothing really for you to do except keep plugging away at the puzzle or wandering off and doing some other puzzle.

The island itself is rather pretty – the graphics are simple, but attractive. Unfortunately, the game seems to believe that walking around the island a great deal is part of the experience, so there is no quick-travel system – if you get stuck on a puzzle and want to go elsewhere, you’re going to have to walk there manually, and while the island isn’t huge, it can take you a couple minutes to get out of the place you’re in, especially if it involved puzzles that moved the environment around in response to you drawing lines (such as drawing lines to move a ferry from one place to another, or to open up a specific path through a location). While this mostly isn’t too bad, it does discourage the player from walking away from a puzzle set.

The game is, on the whole, just okay. The puzzles are quite challenging, but the lack of any motivation to keep playing is wearing. I played the game for about ten hours when I first got it about six months ago, then set it down and didn’t touch it again until tonight, when I solved the last two areas and beat it in another five hours or so, totaling up to about 15 hours of gameplay. Beating the game felt like a pretty empty experience, without any real payoff, and really, the game in general just lacks any sort of sense of reward.

If you are really fond of puzzles, this game has a number of fairly clever ones, even if they’re all based around the same system. But this game can be frustrating in its lack of instructions, won’t help you out in any way if you get stuck, and there is no story or overarching plot. What little dialogue there is in the game is in the form of recordings of real-world quotes, all of which are intended to sound deep, but they don’t lend the game any sense of depth, merely of pretention.

All in all, I don’t think most people would enjoy this game, but people who are big fans of puzzles might get some mileage out of it. But even they are likely to be disappointed if they’re hoping for some sort of payoff like The Talos Principle or the Portal games, or even something like The Turing Test; none of that is present here. There are no characters, no plot, and no story. Just lots and lots of line-drawing puzzles.
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