Dank Video Game Review: The Witness

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In 2008 game developer Jonathan Blow gave the world an incredible platform jumper with Braid. It was innovative because it allowed players to twist time to fit their needs. For instance, you could rewind time a few moments if you had fallen into a spiked pit. Audiences have waited seven years for Blow’s sophomore game to drop, so on January 26th we all got to take part in a first-person puzzle experience called The Witness.

As some of you may know I was recently given a bill of health that involves no alcohol, so of course I responded by replacing one vice with another; I now smoke copious amounts of weed. Cerebral movies like Inception and Donnie Darko suddenly make sense, chocolate-covered Lay’s potato chips sound tasty, and I think I now understand the appeal of DOOOOOOOM.

(Yussss, Bongripper sounds like >>>>>>>>>>>.)

In The Witness, an unnamed player starts out in a dark tunnel with one option: head forwards toward a bright opening that’s blocked by a simple puzzle. Slide a white dot to the right, from its starting point to its ending point and voila! The door opens and upon walking forward you are greeted with a slightly more difficult puzzle, this one with a 90 degree bend in it. Behind this second door is a walkway that leads up toward the outside world; sun shining bright, green grass waving in the wind and many colorful tiles strategically placed all over this beautiful, colorful island. The player is left to explore wherever he desires, though most paths do contain openings that are blocked with small puzzles that require a solution in order to access.

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(A sample puzzle. Trace a line that separates white from black.)

The graphics in this game, unrealistic though they may be, are utterly beautiful. The style of art resembles a cell-shaded game like Antichamber or Borderlands, and I feel like this choice allows author Jonathan Blow a bit of allowance on how the island can look, exaggerating highs and lows without the requirements of photo-realism. The colors are vibrant and artificial, sharing characteristic of neon incandescent lamps. This is a perfect time to spark up the bong and take a giant rip…

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*Cough cough* Ah, so this is what KJM and Blackbeard like to rave about… I can dig it. Wow, The Witness REALLY shines on my plasma television! This game doesn’t seem to have a plot spelled out for the player; it’s more like a story told by audio clips, similar to Dear Esther and SOMA. I might not know much right now, but I’m sure more will unfold as I solve more puzzles. Some of these puzzles are extremely straight-forward; some are completely alien to me, with unique symbols and rules. Any time I feel stumped by a puzzle, I am free to roam around and discover more information but can always return to the tougher puzzles after taking a break. Since I’m not entirely sure where to go next, perhaps I will look to the sky for guidance. I’ll go ahead and follow the direction where the beam of light in the sky points…

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…enter this windmill…

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…head down these stairs…

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…make a right, past some drop lights and wooden supports…

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…enter a room at the end of the tunnel with a small theater (?) inside…

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…all these panels pointing to something up in the sky…

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Oh… my… OMG. I’m currently INSIDE just one small portion of an incredibly larger map! If you look at the sample puzzle below, this room is literally a small square with a white or black dot inside of it (depending on which direction those panels face). Well this is quite interesting. But it fills my head with questions: am I even playing a video game, or am I being coerced into movement by another player interfering with my surroundings? Are all the smaller pieces of this video game also divided into microcosmic pieces and players? Am I… The Witness?

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(This is when I went ape-shit.)

I drop the controller, fall to my knees, and start to weep uncontrollably. These aren’t tears of sadness, but a pure celebration of accomplishment! What I had found was not the end of the game per se, but a special ending for those who aren’t quite satisfied with life’s simpler explanations… the single most truthful story surrounded by deception. I had to e-mail the developer right away.

 I solved it! I got to the puzzle-within-a-puzzle, hidden deep within a windmill. It changes everything, for up until this point I never ACTUALLY knew that I existed! Thank you, Jonathan Blow.

Love, JJM

Within 20 minutes, I received the following response

Thank you for reaching out to me. Yes I designed hundreds puzzles throughout the entire game; but I included one special Easter egg for those curious enough, those eager souls willing to unravel the threads of the fabric of reality, to find. You are the only person to have found it thus far! And for that curiosity, that eagerness… that perseverance, I will award you with a special message of absolute truth: God doesn’t real.

Sincerely, JB

I haven’t loved a puzzle game this much since The Adventures of Lolo from 1989. The puzzles in this game run the entire gamut of difficulty, but the answers can always be found. If you stumble upon a puzzle with new symbols on it, you can be sure there is a tutorial puzzle somewhere close that explains how those symbols behave. Often the player is rewarded for thinking outside the box; for instance a pattern might line up with the outside of a nearby tree, but viewed from a different angle. The Witness is a masterpiece, and obviously can be a life changer. This game gets a perfect score: It’s fun as hell and can really give the player something to ponder… if you’ve got an active mind and want to simultaneously tease and reward it. 420/420 bongs or something. FFO: Talos Principle, Myst, Pipe Dream.

(image via The WitnessSmoke Weed Inc, Punjabi GraphicsRebloggy)

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