187 people found this review helpful
6 people found this review funny
0.0 hrs last two weeks / 57.7 hrs on record (53.5 hrs at review time)
Posted: Feb 13, 2016 @ 3:08pm
Updated: Feb 23, 2016 @ 4:03pm

The Witness is a first person exploration puzzle game that is highly remarkable for a variety of reasons, some of which sadly can't be discussed easily (or at all) without risking spoilers.

For those of you considering the game, please take this to heart and limit or (preferably) just abstain from looking up more info about the game. Many reviews contain spoilers at some level (including the top reviews)! The forums and community hub also do (even though there is a Spoiler subforum, there are still spoilers in the other sub-forums). I will try to keep this review as spoiler free as practical.

First and foremost, The Witness manages to evoke even in a seasoned gamer like me, the sense of wonder I felt when playing games like Myst for the first time.

That is, among other reasons, because the game is a gorgeous piece of virtual art. Most of us are no longer easily impressed by pretty, expensive, mass produced graphics. This is more than that.

While indeed technically excellent, the world (well, island) of The Witness is crafted in a way that feels something like walking around in a masterpiece painting (or series of paintings, as there is considerable environmental variety). Aside from the overall beauty, there are so very many wonderful details to admire. I don't think I have played any other first person 3D game that approaches this level of artistry.

Second, the gameplay, which consists primarily of exploration, puzzle solving, and a sort of scavenger hunting is surprisingly enjoyable.

The classic CD-ROM game Myst is perhaps the closest comparison and the biggest inspiration for this game, but The Witness is much more accessible, less frustrating, more beautiful, and, I think, more rewarding an experience.

It is a game of epiphanies, repeatedly producing quite nice feelings of accomplishment in ways that not many games do, even most puzzle games.

This is largely because the puzzle solving mechanics are never directly explained to you, but the world presents you with ample visual and symbolic clues to make your own inferences. This is the core design principle, and, to me, indeed a key selling point.

Based on preview videos I saw initially, I had significant reservations about the seemingly simplistic puzzle mechanic. Simple it is indeed, but it is presented in such clever, varied, often challenging ways that it never really felt tedious or overly repetitive to me (although, I am quite good at puzzles). And, yes, there is somewhat more to this than solving 2D puzzles on flat panels.

Going into more details about the mechanics would spoil the sense of discovery that is the highlight of the game, so I will not, but I will say that this game will exercise your mind in a wide variety of wonderful ways.

It's not an easy game. While getting to the "easy" ending can be done without much effort, the game holds substantial challenges for those that wish to take them on.

During my playthrough, I ended up using three sheets of graph paper and taking numerous private screenshots for future reference. It's that type of game - the type of game (almost) nobody has dared to make in decades.

It takes maybe a 10-20 hours to reach the easy ending, and another 10-20 to reach complete the second achievement. However, there is quite a bit more to do, and doing all of it, even with a guide, would take quite a lot longer.

So, to those of you wondering about the $40 price point, the game has plenty to offer to justify it.

Conditional Recommendation

I highly recommend The Witness to the right audiences. The trick is determining whether or not you are the right audience for the game.

Reasons you might not like The Witness:
* You have a sensory deficiency (colorblind or deaf) - see Sensory section below for more details
* You dislike puzzles.
* You dislike thinking.
* You want your game mechanics clearly explained to you rather than having to figure them out based on clues/cues.
* You need games to have a coherent, "traditional" story. What is the game about? If you really must know, it's about epistemology
* You would be overly uncomfortable exploring a mostly static world with only some environmental audio, but mostly no music.
* You want to be able to do everything in the game without help (note: help is not necessary for the achievements, though some may need it).
* You want to be able to do everything in the game in a reasonable amount of time (note: again, not a problem for the achievements)
(including this in spoiler tags so others do not inevitably point it out in comments)
* You can't stand being "lectured" on religion/science/philosophy/art/whatever. This isn't a required part of the game. If you don't like that sort of thing, you can ignore it, but if you do, you will be partially "missing the point"

There is a common complaint that, despite what I said, and despite the overall positive reception, that the core mechanic of the game (drawing a line) is too repetitive. I worried about this initially, but I after having played the game, I think it's fine and surprisingly well done, though perhaps not without some arguable flaws. I guess I have to mention that here because it's such a common complaint, but ultimately if this sounds like a concern to you, the only way to find out if it works for you or not without spoiling the game is to actually play the game for yourself.

Besides these warnings, I highly recommend it to anyone else.

Misc. Notes

The game is actually "optionally" DRM free. The Steam version can be run without Steam, if necessary (although mixing offline/online may cause problems).

Buying it at the Humble Store will give you a choice between DRM-free only or Steam key only..

The game looks nice on High settings, for which you would need to meet the moderately high recommended requirements. I haven't tried it in lower settings, but I've seen some people say that the game loses a lot when settings go lower, so the experience won't be as nice.

Is this game "indie"? I would say so. Here's a relevant quote from Jonathan Blow (from Reddit AMA):

"I am not disappointed with anything from the game. If we had shipped it early, I would have been -- I would have stories like you hear from most game developers, "well, we originally wanted to do X but we had to de-scope the game because it was obviously too ambitious", or, "we tried to do Y but we just didn't get it right and then we had to ship". No, that is not how we work here. We built an ambitious game and we made sure everything was good and then we shipped it. When you aren't being forced to ship by a publisher or by financial constraints, you can feel free to make the best thing that you can."

A Spoilerful Review by Someone Else

If you've already finished the game, or are for some silly reason resolved to never play it, then this is another review I'd recommend that discusses the nature of the game in a way that can't be done without spoilers:


Sensory Info

There are sections of the game where puzzles are sound and color based. If you have a sensory deficiency, you will not be able to finish those puzzles on your own. But, you could look up the solutions in a guide.

Specifically, the sound puzzles are: in the forest area where there are speakers attached to trees, etc, near the puzzles and for one puzzle in the shipwreck

The color puzzles are in the greenhouse area on the sea facing side of the mountain and a few also in the village area
Was this review helpful? Yes No Funny Award
Chewable C++ Feb 19, 2016 @ 10:14am 
Thanks! Glad you found it helpful. It was a difficult review to write and I still feel like I could have expressed things better somehow.

Regarding C++, these days there are many online compilers where you can play with code right in your browser! Some examples:


... and many more. Try Googling "online compiler" if you're curious.

There's even a gamified learning experience where you program sub-problems for little "games" with your browser as IDE, complete with debugging (sort of)!

Trent Feb 19, 2016 @ 9:59am 
This is one of the best reviews I've ever read on Steam. And by "best," I mean...well thought-out, full of good info, respectful of the game and sensitive to the different kinds of people who will be reading the review...kudos to you! :tokitori:
In other news, I wish I still had a C++ compiler to try out your code. :evilwonkers:
Aduleten Feb 16, 2016 @ 10:22pm 
This is a really great review and I am glad to see it on the front page of the store. I did mine a bit more than a week ago, completely spoilers free, after being a bit angry seeing reviews full of them on the front page. Thank you for your review for such a great game :)
Chewable C++ Feb 15, 2016 @ 3:33pm 
It's very hard to discuss this without risking spoilers, sorry. If you want, I can go into more detail privately and take that risk privately.
YFNSpider Feb 15, 2016 @ 3:01pm 
I don't know if I'd use the word 'typical'. I definitely wouldn't say there needs to be a reward of any kind. A good plot is an art form in and of itself, and I hope the developers didn't leave it out simply because they believe otherwise. Plot points hidden here and there, either within a puzzle or otherwise, that can eventually combine to point out goals (without the obvious objectives list in the UI) would go a long way toward this. But simply unlocking parts of the world to access more puzzles doesn't seem like it would be enough for me, without a reason for doing so.
Chewable C++ Feb 15, 2016 @ 1:32pm 
Well, there is an ending and there are unlockables of sorts, as well as various measures of progress. Parts of the game are only accessible by progressing through puzzles. But if you absolutely require a typical plot or "tangible" reward mechanism, then, yeah, I guess this game might not work for you.

The store page is almost misleading in how it describes the theme of the game. Some argue that it outright is misleading (I disagree). I think that's partly because the kind of hook written into the storage page is, as you suggest, necessary for many to even consider the game. If that hook wasn't there, people would risk missing out on something they didn't realize they would otherwise enjoy.
YFNSpider Feb 15, 2016 @ 9:37am 
Thanks for the detailed explanation. The downside is that it ended up changing my mind and convincing me NOT to buy the game at all, but this review was genuinely helpful in leading me to that point. While I understand that some people enjoy simply taking the time to explore a world, I'm an individual who can very easily lose interest unless something comes up to pique my curiosity - usually in the form of a plot of some kind. After reading through a large number of the reviews, they all seem to agree that this is not present. Beautiful visuals alone are not enough to keep me interested, there needs to be a sense of purpose. Even if I have to uncover it myself, I want to find out at some point that there is some kind of goal that I'm working toward.

As a result, I'll probably take a pass on The Witness. Maybe their next project will build on this game and include the missing elements that would have drawn me in.
Chewable C++ Feb 14, 2016 @ 3:09pm 
I can see how you might think that, but that's not exactly the intent. This isn't an exact science.

I wouldn't use this format for any game, but in this case, I felt it was more useful/appropriate to list reasons for not playing it than vice versa, because I feel that the game has considerable universal appeal.
foofaraw and Chiquita(ARF!) Feb 14, 2016 @ 2:11pm 
Just a thought that is only based on personal experience. When I did something similar for Beeswing, I listed characteristics of those who WOULD possibly like it, and listed only what I considered positives. "I almost always leave myself an out."

When you listed mostly what might be perceived as negatives among puzzle gamers, and said ".....recommend it to anyone else" (which it still says) you were unequivocally saying that ANYONE not liking the game MUST be in one of "my listed categories." That actually encouraged those others of us, due to human nature, to check out which category you placed us in. No way for it to not have a somewhat judgemental feel.

Delete as you wish. I mean no harm, and I realize I have an innapropriate sense of proportion. Thank you.
Chewable C++ Feb 14, 2016 @ 1:45pm 
I added more text covering that complaint. There's no way I could write a review for this game that 100% predicts whether someone will like it or not. But I know that the arguably repetitive nature of the core mechanic seems to be tolerated fine by most that have actually played it, judging by reviews, etc. Unsurprisingly, the game won't work for everyone, though.