The Witness is a Good Game everyone should play [GG #3]

The GG series, published weekly, highlights Good Games everyone should play at least once, with links out to fantastic writing. Scroll down for a list of previous GG posts.

The Witness (2016, PS4, Xbox One, PC, mobiles) is more than just a bloody beautiful world — it’s one of the smartest puzzle games ever made. Not because it’s mind-meltingly hard, but because it consistently makes you feel clever for solving what, at first, appear to be relatively simple maze puzzles.

What is it?

A rich, mysterious puzzle game where you walk around a gorgeous island drawing lines on 2D grids. All the puzzles are based on the same idea: You must connect the source of a line — marked by a big circle — with an end goal by moving through a maze (you can see examples in the trailer above).

This simple concept is twisted in clever ways depending on which part of the colourful world you’re in. Each of the many zones introduces — and then asks you to master — a simple rule. One early zone, for example, makes one half of the grid mirror the other, so that you have to simultaneously guide two lines to their goal.

The world is open for you to explore, and often, you’ll realise a rule about the puzzles in one area that helps you with a puzzle you’re stuck on in another. It’s that back-and-forth, that sense that everything connects, that sets The Witness apart. As you work towards a central mountain, you’ll find tons of surprises and secrets on your way that gradually tell you what the whole thing means. There’s also philosophical audio logs about the nature of knowledge, if that’s your thing.

What makes it so good?

Did I mention how pretty it is?

Beyond looks, three things make its puzzles so satisfying to solve.

One, even though it never explains what you need to do, the pace at which is ramps up from simple to complex puzzles is perfect. It gives you a solid base for understanding what to do, then constantly tests the limits of your knowledge, which makes each area all-the-more satisfying to clear.

Two, is smartly weaves rules from different sections of the map together. I can’t tell you how many times solving a puzzle in one zone has made me completely rethink a puzzle in a different part of the map.

And three — and this is a minor spoiler, so if you intend to play it blind, skip to the next question — it makes the world a part of the puzzle. I don’t want to say much more than: Keep looking at your surroundings, and wait for the Eureka moment.

Where can I buy it?

Sadly, it’s a little pricey. It’s about £30 / $40 anywhere you care to look, including the PlayStation Store, the Microsoft Store, Steam, and the Epic Games Store. The mobile version, though cheaper (around £10 / $10), is inferior, so I wouldn’t recommend it.

Still, it’s worth shelling out, in my opinion, even though it’s an older game. Alternatively, you could wait for it to come to some streaming service or other.

PC is the place where you’ll find the best deals: It’s been as low as £7 / $10 there. To track deals, I recommend creating an account on IsThereAnyDeal — a fantastic deal site that lists every current discount, and can notify you when prices go low. You can create a “Waitlist” of games, and whenever I want to buy something new I go there, sort by percentage discount, and take my pick.

Extra life… (bonus questions and links to brilliant writing)

If I don’t want to buy it, are there any good “let’s plays” I can watch?

You’re in luck! The always-entertaining ChristopherOdd played through it on livestream when it came out. The first episode is here. What I’d say is that if you intend to play the game, don’t watch, because it will ruin the magic.

Any good guides if I get stuck?

GamesRadar’s Iain Wilson (@wilbossman) wrote a comprehensive walkthrough here.

Links to great writing about The Witness:

A: This 10/10 IGN review from Chloi Rad (@_chloi).

B: Kotaku’s Stephen Totilo (@stephentotilo) wrote about wrestling with the game’s most difficult puzzle — a bonus challenge that only a tiny percentage of players complete.

X: Matt Peckham (@mattpeckham) interviewed The Witness creator Jonathan Blow for TIME magazine back in 2016.

Y: A spoiler-heavy GamesRadar piece on the game’s Eureka moment, from David Roberts (@davidrobots).

Previous GG posts

GG #1: Hades (2020, PC, Switch)

GG #2: Dishonored 2 (2016, PC, Xbox One, PS4)