Playing ‘The Witness': Hands-On with the Next Game from the Creator of ‘Braid’

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I do know how to solve things! Another run at the apple tree puzzles, then. And… nothing. Again. What am I missing?! More camera panning. Okay, there’s an apple I didn’t see before. Try the matching thing again. Great. That’s two down, on to the third. Apple spotted, but this time it isn’t quite clear what branch is the key one.

I draw a diagram, sure that it will help. It’s a crap diagram and it doesn’t help. Shocker. Ooh, let’s take a picture with a iDevice. (Hey, Blow, you left me alone and I feel dumb. Don’t judge me.) The picture on my iPod Touch helps but it’s not a breakthrough moment in and of itself. It takes more error stacked on more trial to finally get me through the apple tree puzzles. I exhale when they’re all done. There’s no reward, no happy music or charming cutscene. But, oddly, I feel like I don’t need those. The knowing–the process itself–is its own congratulations.

Taken all together, these areas illustrate the arc of engagement Blow hopes to create in The Witness. The first set with the security gate teaches you about drawing the line patterns, reading the environment for progression cues and how messing up cancels out previous solutions. The second set with the apples builds on those elements and introduces the idea that if you mess up the next link in a sequence, you’ll need to not only repeat the puzzle you’re working on, but the one before it as well. This mechanic isn’t ultra-cruel, as the solving pattern was still lit up, but I had to retrace it. Still, there’s room for error even in that and, believe me, I erred. Yes, I messed up things I’d already solved.

I play some more, taking in the odd dissonance of the gameworld’s architecture. Low, squat structures done in an odd, coldly minimalist style sit in the shadow of a weird windmill straight out of a fractured, alt-reality Holland. Who built this place? Why? For all my solving, the puzzles I’ve done aren’t giving me any answers to those questions.  I walk into a building with sculpted cut-outs in its walls. Okay, these are easy. Well, now they are, anyway. Using the camera to line the cutouts with environmental elements on the outside reveals the tracing pattern. The Witness is an open-world game, which means that I could’ve found my way to these puzzles before the ones in the apple tree orchard. Would I have been able to figure these out, were that the case? The best I can come up with is a solid “maybe.”

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