The Witness: Reading between the lines

When The Witness boots up, you are staring at a dark screen with a circle of light emanating from its center. It takes you a moment to realize that the game has actually started and you’re standing in the center of a tunnel. As soon as you walk toward the light, you emerge onto a mysterious island full of puzzles.

The opening to our E3 demo of Jonathan Blow’s new game is free of many of the tutorial trappings found in most games. In The Witness, players are free to explore the island’s various districts at their leisure. You might be drawn over to the island’s castle before running up against a puzzle you don’t understand and then wander toward the island’s cherry blossom garden or its deserts.

The Witness’ puzzles slowly teach you the rules necessary to solve them. They never present on screen prompts telling players how to solve a problem. Instead, it breaks down complex tasks into a series of small solutions for players to walk through.

Even though every puzzle in The Witness revolves around drawing lines, there is a great breadth of variety to the puzzles. We saw some puzzles that required players to view a puzzle through a metal gate in order to see the correct path to the finish point. Another puzzle required that we depress plates on the ground in the middle of a garden to draw a line on the board on a pedestal.

It’s hard to fully grasp some of The Witness’ mechanics until you get your hands on it yourself, but those puzzle and adventure game fans who are still confused about how the game works shouldn’t lose enthusiasm for this artsy indie title. The mysteries of The Witness will become a lot clearer when it releases sometime late this year or early next year.

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