The Witness is an open world first person puzzle game developed and published by Thekla Inc. The game throws you onto an abandoned island filled with puzzles. The island has different districts, and completing all puzzles in that district will have a laser beam shoot from the district to the top of a mountain in the middle of the island.
The Witness is something that isn't seen a lot nowadays, and that's minimalist. It doesn't throw you into some deep plot where you question why you are the island and why are their stone statues everywhere. It doesn't have a ton of controls with long tutorials on how to use them. It simply just puts onto a deserted island filled with puzzles to solve. That's it. Now some people may not like that aspect of simplicity, but I think that they don't like it because they are so use to complex games filled with tons of dialogue and fast-paced action. To me, The Witness was relaxing. It had a steady, slow pace and didn't bog me down with tutorials or dialogue choices. It simply just puts you on an island and let's you explore.
It's minimalist style is seen everywhere. Their a very little controls in the game, which I found relaxing. I wasn't bogged down on what to memorize. The controls consisted of moving, looking, an interaction button, and running. That's it. I find these controls to be relaxing to me, but I also feel that it could be a great way to introduce a new gamer to controls. It's the simple controls and the slow pace that could help someone who is trying to use keyboard and mouse or a controller. But one way I did find this game to minimalist that I liked a lot was in the tutorials (and lack their of.) The game would just show you the button or buttons. That's it. No animation of the button being pressed or writing next to the button that says,'press here.' It instead says,'here is how you play our game, but you are smart enough to know how to press buttons and you are smart enough to figure out how to play the game yourself.' In so many other games, I get annoyed by long tutorials that treats me like I don't know anything. Even people who never play video games before are smart enough to learn how to use controls, and this game tells me that I am smart enough. Another way this game says that I am capable of doing things is not having tutorials on puzzles. The island is filled with different kinds of puzzles, but the game isn't filled with tutorials on how to solve them. It instead starts you off with a very simple puzzle, and slowly builds you up to harder puzzles while you figure out how to solve those puzzles yourself. It was that self discovery that made me feel great, and I think the way Thekla set up the puzzles is way better than just giving me a tutorial. That self discovery showed me that I am smart enough to figure these things out on my own, and that I don't need anyone else's help.
But it's not tutorials and controls where you can see and hear the minimalist feel. With sounds, their is only one song in the entire game(as part of a challenge) and the only dialogue you hear are either quotes from secrets around the map or from the movies in the theater area. What you do hear a lot though are environmental sounds; like the wind through the trees or the waves hitting shore. It was the lack of dialogue or music that really said to you that you are alone, and you are relaxed (apart from the challenge.) Their is no heightened music to make you stressed, or no dialogue to make you annoyed by. It's just you, on an island, exploring. The art feels a bit minimalist as well. The art feels between realistic and artsy. The trees would look detailed, but rocks or the sky wouldn't. It was this style plus the vibrant colors that really made me love the art of the game.
But the game didn't go light in other areas(for the better.) The game is filled with puzzles to solve. Despite the over 600 puzzles following the same format of drawing a line from one end to another, the puzzles varied a lot. Some of the puzzles got really hard and I would get stressed, but stepping back from the puzzle and walking around and hearing the environmental sounds did help relax me. Another area that the game didn't go light with was how deep the game felt. The puzzles to solve were all on these square pads, but the world itself was also filled with these line puzzles. You could draw these lines on a river, the roof of a building, the ground, or really anywhere. The island was full of these, plus line puzzles used to see movies, secret audio files, and more. To me, this was the kind of game where the developers would come out in 5 years and say that not everything was found in the game and that the game runs deeper than what people have found. To me, that not knowing how deep it goes is exciting. And another area that this game doesn't go light on is the island. The island itself isn't large, but it is filled with buildings, puzzles, and more. The island consists of many different districts. Some districts have puzzles to solve, some don't. The island is also filled with underground areas and a big area inside the mountain. This island, although small, is packed with places to explore, and its vibrant colors make each area fill distinct from one another. Whether it's the bright pink leaves on a tree of one area, or the bold red and blue flowers that fill the marshes. It's the distinct areas and the freedom to explore that made this game just as fun to explore as it is to solve puzzles.
This game doesn't make you question who you are, where you are, or what you are doing. It's a simple game that gives you puzzles and lets you explore an island. It's heavy on content, but light on controls. It can stress you out with hard puzzles and let's you relax with the calm breeze of the wind going through the trees. It's a game that lets me know that I am smart enough to figure things out on my own.This game may not be for everyone, but everyone should play this game and see what a game can really be like. Not all games are about sports or shooting bad guys. Not all games have to follow a cookie cutter complex story with a twist. It may be hard to try a game that is slowed down and is different from the rest; but if you give it time, you will eventually see why I think that The Witness is a good game to play.
Here are some cool tracking shots of the island on youtube: