Game essentials: The Witness
We celebrate the must-play games on the App Store.
An enthralling journey through a beautiful, secluded island, The Witness is no ordinary puzzle game. Creator Jonathan Blow, who spent seven years building it, isn’t concerned with making you feel smarter, but making you be smarter. Crucially, his game gives you the space to develop that insight at your own pace.
Across the island you’ll find hundreds of touch panels, each of which contains a maze. You’re asked to trace a route from a circular start point to the exit, drawing a single continuous line that can’t cross over itself.
Sometimes these panels are on their own, but more often they come in sequences, forming circuits of sorts to power mechanisms and doors, letting you access new areas as the island gradually opens up.
You’re never told where to go, though there are obvious paths to follow and landmarks to draw your attention. Otherwise you’ll naturally find yourself following the long, winding cables that trail from these panels, teasing you towards fresh discoveries.
Each set of panels introduces a new rule, and then cleverly twists it. You might start a line and your movements will be automatically mirrored by another, forcing you to simultaneously reach the exits with both. Then that mirrored line becomes invisible and you’re asked to use your mind’s eye to work out its bearing.
As you progress, the surrounding environment becomes a factor. You’ll need to look through some mazes at the horizon, drawing around jutting rocks reflected in the water. There are mazes within mazes: your route to the screen determining the route you trace across it. And then you find yourself walking across pressure pads that light up underfoot, the panel illuminating to match your movements.
A lot of puzzle games become less rewarding once you’ve fully sussed out their underlying rules. The Witness finds so many mind-bending variations on its core idea that you constantly experience the thrill of discovery. It’s incredibly satisfying when everything clicks into place, and it’s a sensation you feel over and over again.
Inevitably, there are moments where your brain’s cogs will grind to a halt. But it doesn’t matter if you get stuck: you can simply wander to a different part of the island and try out another set of puzzles. Sometimes, a break is all you need for a particular rule to solidify in your mind; you’ll return to a panel that had you stumped and suddenly it’s a doddle.
In fact, The Witness does an incredible job in soothing the sting of frustration you typically get when you hit an impasse. Much of that is down to the serene atmosphere of the island, with its calming pastel shades and gentle ambient effects. It puts you in an almost hypnotic state, letting you focus on the maze in front of you without distraction.
You can reach the end without solving every puzzle, but if you like to really test yourself, you’ll find many optional challenges. These require you to hold more than one set of rules in your head, inviting you to find a solution that satisfies them all. Beyond these barriers you’ll occasionally locate clues to yet another mystery, tucked away who-knows-where.
One piece of advice before you start: grab a pen and paper (or open up your Notes app) because you’ll need them to truly make the most of this game. You might not think mazes are your thing, but by the time you uncover the island’s deepest secrets, The Witness will surely have changed your mind.