If there was an annual award for 'Game Most Often Judged by Cover', The Witness would take it this year, hands down. Written off by many as "that game that's just about drawing lines", Jonathan Blow's long-delayed successor to Braid is, and has always been, about more than what's on the surface. Sure, your only real interaction with the game is through solving panel after panel, but what most people don't think about is the ingenious design of not only the puzzles, but the island itself. Coming from Blow and his team at Thekla Inc., this shouldn't surprise most.
One of The Witness' greatest accomplishments is its ability to teach you precisely how its puzzles work without ever feeling like it's doing so. It presents all of the information you need on the screen, and never once butts in with button prompts or hints. The first few puzzles in any given area on the island familiarise you with their symbols and eccentricities, and then the game sends you on your way, a little more learned and armed with all of the knowledge required to activate the next laser. What you're left with is the most accessibly challenging puzzler since Portal 2.
"At first glance it may not seem like it, but The Witness offers one of the most rewarding and engrossing experiences available on the PS4"
And it's absolutely a challenge. You may be provided with all the clues, but you still have to solve the mysteries, and they're everywhere. There are bound to be some puzzles that you can't wrap your head around, and that's when the island's open world design comes into play. If you get stuck, move onto a new area. The town is the perfect example of this design at work. It contains a mishmash of all kinds of puzzles, and because of this, it feels like the last place you're supposed to finish. You'll undoubtedly wander into the town, though, and get stuck. By the time you return, however, you'll have a new perspective; suddenly, the indecipherable puzzles that taunted you earlier are now clear as day.
All this traipsing around in search of knowledge obviously encourages exploration. As well as the island being absolutely gorgeous, with its segmented environments offering a diverse range of colourful views, it's also jam-packed with secrets. We won't go into too much detail for those that have yet to play, but they range from mysterious hidden areas off the beaten path to mind-blowing new puzzles that push your understanding of the island. The more you delve into The Witness, the more it gives back.
It's a game of surprising depth and complexity, a puzzler that truly respects its player's intelligence. At first glance it may not seem it, but The Witness offers one of the most rewarding and engrossing gameplay experiences available on the PlayStation 4. There's nothing quite like playing through The Witness for the first time, notepad at the ready, and slowly but surely piecing everything together. It wholly deserves a place in our top ten, and is destined to go down as a genre classic.
Is The Witness in line to take your Game of the Year award? Do you think that Blow's puzzler lived up to the legacy of Braid? Scratch your head in the comments section below.