|Dev: Jonathan Blow|
|Pub: Jonathan Blow|
|Release: TBA 2012|
|Screen Resolution: 480p-1080p|
by Adam Dodd
What do you get when you combine an expansive deserted island with hidden secrets and challenging puzzles? You get The Witness, the next game from Jonathan Blow, better known as the creative mind behind the acclaimed 2D puzzle platformer Braid. After Braid became a runaway success, Blow took a break from serious development to cultivate a handful of different ideas. Emerging from these ideas was a "very ambitions and challenging" prototype of what would soon become The Witness, which replaces the 2D limitations of Blow's last game with a large fully explorable 3D world.
This game isn't really like anything else out there. In a way, it invokes comparisons with Myst, though The Witness relies on a much more simplistic art style and a plethora of maze-like puzzles that you can solve to unlock new areas of the island. Unlike most puzzle games, it's non-linear, which means you can explore the world freely and solve the puzzles you want to solve in the order you wish to tackle them. The only real direction comes in the form of audio logs that have been scattered about the world that can shed some light on the island's story.
For a game like this it's very important that the immersion factor doesn't get interrupted by cinematics or other staples of video game storytelling. To remove this issue, The Witness' story will be carried solely by the audio logs you collect. Not unlike 2007's BioShock, many of your burning questions will be answered in these audio logs, so it's important to always keep an eye out for them. Other than explaining more of the story, they carry a sense of loneliness in a gorgeous environment that's long been deserted by people. Because of the game's non-linear style, there's a very good chance your perception of the story will differ from another player's idea of what's going on, since there's no set order in which players will discover these audio logs.
Obviously, it's crucial that the puzzles here be both interesting and challenging. The gameplay videos that have been floating about the Internet seem to focus on one of the major elements of the game: the blue maze puzzles. In them, you have to guide a line through certain parts of a maze. It's a bit difficult to grasp exactly what's going on in these gameplay video, since they're such small pieces and taken out of the context of the full game. Blow offered this explanation: "the mazes aren't just puzzles; they are lines of communication that aggregate, become more complex, and eventually say surprising things. This can't be seen in a video; you have to play it to have the experience. The magic is in the player's head, not on the screen."
The Witness looks to let you make your own decisions and do whatever it is you want to do, and it rewards you for exploring its big open world. The mazes are one of the primary pieces of this puzzler, and as such they evolve and become more complex, starting off on a fairly small scale—locks on doors, for example—before bringing entire areas into the mix. You'll no doubt be solving a good amount of mazes over the course of the game, but the rules and scale change with each puzzle to keep things from feeling too repetitive.
The entire game takes place on a long abandoned island that's both beautiful and mysterious. It's large enough to require a hefty amount of exploration to find all of its hidden secrets. Some of the revealed areas include a Hedge Maze, Sculptor's Studio, Planetarium, and Dock. There's also The Compound, which contains a house and a pond that are surrounded by a force field. It's unusual, but that's one of this game's many quirks. When coming across something so strange while exploring a world like this, it's human nature to want to see what's going on there. Blow has implemented a myriad of moments and areas just like this to take advantage of the way gamers think and approach the gameplay. You'll undoubtedly have a ton of questions, but many of them won't be answered right away; you'll have to work for them, exploring and investigating the world Blow has created.
With a pedigree that includes one of 2008's most beloved games, The Witness is practically destined for success. Not content to sit on his laurels, Jonathan Blow has taken another risky move and started from scratch, giving gamers another beautiful and bizarre game that's likely to please and impress us when it comes out sometime next year.
CCC Contributing Writer