The Witness Review

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A labyrinthine mystery through a brilliantly designed world.

Update: The Witness has been nominated for IGN’s 2016 Game of the Year

The Witness  Review

 The Witness is a game brimming with secrets: daunting and multilayered mysteries that sunk into my subconscious, tracing snaking paths across my brain until I was literally seeing mazes every time I closed my eyes. That’s the kind of power The Witness has. It hooked me in with its masterful puzzle design and gorgeous visuals, then compelled me forward as I began to carve out my own purpose on the island. It’s a freedom granted by a world as welcomingly open to exploration as it is enjoyably challenging to solve.

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The Witness is a fully 3D world navigated in first person, but revolves around solving two-dimensional mazes found on in-game panels, completed by drawing the correct path from a circular start point to a rounded end point. This simple, intuitive core concept burns at the center of the 700 or so puzzles you’ll find on The Witness’s enigmatic island setting. Tracing lines feels as smooth as cutting butter with both a mouse and a gamepad and is accompanied by a warm, electric buzzing effect. The pure tactile joy of communicating with these interfaces and the initial sense of wonder and mystery their very presence brings were enough to motivate me in the earliest moments of The Witness. But these light-up labyrinths quickly became more sophisticated, adding new rules and constraints to the basic maze-like structure and thus allowing for the real tough, yet fulfilling challenges to emerge.

Puzzles With a Purpose

Puzzles in The Witness are hard, but fair.

As I learned to apply each new rule, curiosity soon gave way to obsessive levels of motivation and purpose. I wasn’t just solving puzzles because they were fun – slowly but surely, they were beginning to make sense in a much larger context. This manifests most tangibly in The Witness’s first obvious, overarching “goal” – shooting beams of light into a mountain. The mountain serves as the island’s highest point, most prominent landmark, and consequently its most central mystery for reasons that are obvious once you start playing, but which I won’t spoil here.

Most of the major regions on the island house machinery capable of shooting light into the mountain, but can only be activated once you solve the right sequence of puzzles, bestowing my frantic line-drawing antics with an important sense of progress. It also helped me see the various regions of the island as distinct parts of a larger, cohesive whole, making the constant treks across the surprisingly large, dense land mass less daunting because of it. It let me set my own goals, trace my own path around the island, so I never had to feel lost, physically or in terms of my role on the island.

The Witness  Review

A map of the island.

There was also enough to do and see beyond the key objectives that my time spent simply wandering still felt compelling minute to minute. I could take a peaceful boat ride around the perimeter, explore the ruins of a wrecked ship, finally make the descent into that hidden underground passage I’d discovered on a previous errand. I valued these quiet moments on the island as much as I did overcoming its most perplexing puzzles, especially during the times I felt truly stuck.

A New Perspective

Puzzles in The Witness are hard, but they’re always fair and solvable. In a manner more freeing than most puzzle adventures, you’re allowed and even encouraged to walk away from a problem you don’t feel equipped to solve. That’s a concept introduced in the opening minutes, when you encounter a locked door covered in symbols you’re unfamiliar with. The answers you need are further up the path, but you have to let yourself walk away first to know that. The Witness does more than equip you with the tools needed to find the right answers – it teaches you how to ask the right questions.

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Expand this dynamic to the whole of the island, and you get an intelligently designed puzzle game that doesn’t just give you the freedom to chip away at its riddles at your own pace, but creates a compelling adventure of the learning process itself.

I always found seeking the answer just as satisfying as applying it.

The masterful design of The Witness’s puzzles is matched by the beautiful and clever layout of the island itself. One early sequence of puzzles unlocks a small courtyard full of sketches and diagrams of human hearts and veins. It didn’t seem of immediate significance when I found it, until I walked out to the neighboring cliffside I had passed by on my way there and noticed the way the red tree roots growing along the edges of the seaside bluff looked like bright, thick arteries coursing through the flesh of the earth. These startling and sometimes enlightening visual revelations were everywhere, adding excitement and meaning to the world even when I wasn’t actively seeking it out.

The Witness  Review

Sights become symbolic with the right context.

Every tree, every rock, feels like it has been placed with a purpose, allowing familiar sights to take on thematic weight when viewed from different angles. Ordinary landmarks became focal points when framed with precise deliberation between a grove of trees, or perfectly centered inside a hollow window frame. That’s kind of what The Witness is about: pointing you toward new ways of seeing.

Many times, finding the answer meant stepping away from the actual puzzle and asking myself what I wasn’t seeing. Puzzles in The Witness are solved on these panels, but it doesn’t mean everything you need to solve them exists within their physical confines. No matter what question a particular puzzle posed, I always found seeking the answer just as satisfying as applying it.

Island of Enlightenment

A lot of games try to be about things, but The Witness actually embodies those things. Audio logs hidden around the island contain quotes from famous philosophers and scientists, chosen with obvious care for the way each speaks to specific concepts The Witness sets out to explore. The graceful design of the island had already managed to provoke natural epiphanies about ideas some of the quotes address, so at times the logs felt unnecessary. But then other times the words spoke to me, in the same way the physical island had: an invitation to see things from a new point of view that maybe I hadn’t considered.

The Witness  Review

The view from the top.

Some of the most mind-blowing revelations were hidden in plain sight…

One particular quote at the top of the mountain comes from former astronaut Russell Schweickart. As I looked down at the island from its highest point, I felt a connection between what Schweickart was describing, when he spoke about the transformative effect of looking down at the Earth from space, and the all-encompassing view of the island the mountain afforded me. Like the Earth that Schweickart describes, spinning around the same way every day, revealing the same places with each rotation, nothing about the island ever really changes. I could walk by the same thing in The Witness ninety-nine times and never have a second thought, but then on the 100th passing, I’d notice something new about it. But not because the thing itself had changed – because I had.

Like everything else in The Witness, finding more concrete answers about this abandoned island and the people who once occupied it requires patience. There’s plenty there to dissect – statues that seem like people frozen from various eras, mysterious corporate logos, hidden audio logs – and it was all enough to keep me enthralled in the mysteries it built across my 40- to 50-hour playthrough. Most of the time it’s more questions than answers, and I enjoyed that it left things open to interpretation.

The Witness  Review

Statues around the island seem like people from all eras, frozen in time.

There’s also a lot you can miss – secrets tucked away behind the island’s most challenging obstacles – but some of the most mind-blowing revelations were hidden in plain sight, making every return to the island a new adventure. I estimate it would take 80 to 100 hours to fully do and see everything here, but there’s a satisfying amount of thematic weight and contextual clues that I was able to reach the ending the first time without feeling like The Witness owed me a greater answer to its riddles. Story doesn’t drive The Witness as much as its mystery, nor does it treat story as an arbitrary reward for your efforts; what’s there only enriches an already fulfilling experience.

The Verdict

The Witness has a power and pull that carried me throughout the more than 40 hours it took to complete it for the first time, and that, even now, beckons me back to confront the mysteries I left unsolved. Its graceful combination of tangible goals, obscurity, and freedom creates ample opportunity for small victories and grand revelations alike. For the most part, its themes weave themselves beautifully throughout the gorgeous world and wide variety of puzzles, but even when it breaks subtlety in favor of a more heavy-handed approach to exposition, it never detracts from the truly fulfilling moments The Witness offers in terms of solving its physical puzzles and unlocking its deepest mysteries.

GTA 5, Portal 2 Among First Steam Awards Winners

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Voted on by the Steam community.

The winners of the 2016 Steam Awards have been announced.

Grand Theft Auto V, The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim and Portal 2 were among the winning titles of the first ever Steam Awards. Valve’s portal-focused puzzle game won “Villain Most in Need of a Hug,” while Rockstar’s open-world hit received both the “Whoooaaaaaaa, dude!” award and the “Game Within a Game” award.

GTA 5, Portal 2 Among First Steam Awards Winners

The 2016 Steam Awards winners, as voted on by the community.

See the full list of winners below:

  • Villain Most in Need of a Hug – Portal 2
  • I Thought This Game Was Cool Before It Won an Award – Euro Truck Simulator 2
  • Test of Time – The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim
  • Just 5 More Minutes – Counter-Strike: Global Offensive
  • Whoooaaaaaaa, dude! – Grand Theft Auto V
  • Game Within a Game – Grand Theft Auto V
  • I’m Not Crying, There’s Something in My Eye – The Walking Dead
  • Best Use of a Farm Animal – Goat Simulator
  • Boom Boom – Doom
  • Love/Hate Relationship – Dark Souls III
  • Sit Back and Relax – Euro Truck Simulator 2
  • Better With Friends – Left 4 Dead 2

The winning titles were selected by the Steam community during this year’s Winter Sale, which kicked off on December 22 and runs until January 2.

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For more end-of-year celebration, check out the nominees for IGN’s Best of 2016 Awards.

Alex Osborn is a freelance writer for IGN. You can follow him on Twitter.

Winners for First Steam Awards Revealed

The winners of Valve’s first-ever Steam Awards have been revealed.

Winners for First Steam Awards Revealed

This isn’t your normal, everyday awards show, however. The categories included things like “Villain Most In Need Of A Hug” and “‘The Whoooaaaaaaa, dude!’ Award,” among other wonderful ones.

Below you can see a full rundown of categories and winners, as rounded up by Kotaku.

The games were voted on by Steam users, who received a Steam Awards Trading Card for taking part. The winners were announced today, December 31, at 1 PM PT / 4 PM ET.

Steam Awards 2016 Winners:

  • “Villain Most In Need Of A Hug” Award: Portal 2
  • The “I Thought This Game Was Cool Before It Won An Award” Award:Euro Truck Simulator 2
  • The “Test of Time” Award: The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim
  • The “Just 5 More Minutes” Award: Counter-Strike: Global Offensive
  • The “Whoooaaaaaaa, dude!” Award: Grand Theft Auto V
  • The “Game Within A Game” Award: Grand Theft Auto V
  • The “I’m Not Crying, There’s Something In My Eye” Award: The Walking Dead
  • The “Best Use Of A Farm Animal” Award: Goat Simulator
  • The “Boom Boom” Award: Doom
  • The “Love/Hate Relationship” Award: Dark Souls III
  • The “Sit Back and Relax” Award: Euro Truck Simulator 2
  • The “Better With Friends” Award: Left 4 Dead 2

What do you make of these results? Let us know in the comments below!

GameSpot’s own Game of the Year for 2016 was Blizzard’s hero shooter Overwatch–read more here.

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Beauty and the Beast: Here’s a Bit of Emma Watson Singing

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The song being performed is “Something There.”

Disney has released a short preview of Emma Watson singing a classic Beauty and the Beast song from the upcoming live-action remake.

You can listen to Watson via a 30-second audio snippet on Twitter, where she performs “Something There.” Though brief, the clip does give a decent preview of just how different Watson’s rendition of the song might be from the version sung by Paige O’Hara in the original 1991 animated film

Here’s your exclusive first listen of @EmmaWatson​ singing ‘Something There’ from Beauty and the Beast. #BeOurGuest pic.twitter.com/AWpcrDmELY

— Beauty and the Beast (@beourguest) December 31, 2016

Beauty and the Beast hits theaters March 17, 2017. While you wait for the film, check out why it’s one of IGN’s biggest upcoming movies of 2017.

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Alex Gilyadov is a freelance writer for IGN. You can follow him on Twitter.

Hyper Light Drifter Review

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A cryptic laser show with sword and speed.

As a stylish rekindling of old-school action games, Hyper Light Drifter lets its basic combat mechanics, and heavily inferred story do all the talking, subduing you in a hypnotic trance of sound and color. While it excels in all of those beautiful, pixelated spaces, it also obscures too many pieces of its time-traveling story for this world of death and savagery to make sense.

Hyper Light Drifter is provocative. In its first impression, it radiates light and warmth and tone through incandescent rays of kaleidoscopic neon graphics, staticy sounds, and upbeat digital tunes that set the stage for a colorful sci-fi world. Its pixel art is brilliant, conveying detail through subtle touches – like a blast of air causing ripples in the water. Despite its pixelated trappings, it grapples with mature themes: extinction, genocide, cultism, religious symbolism, and time travel.

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Developer Heart Machine’s slick fighting systems are equally distilled, marrying melee slashes and long-ranged firearms with slippery dashes for a simple, potent foundation. That’s built upon through purchasable skills, which give you the option to add complexity where you want it. For example, precisely timing your dash allows for another, and another, and another, chaining dashes for as long as you’re able to keep the rhythm without running into anything. Similarly, you can upgrade your sword to reflect incoming projectiles back at attackers, perform a dash-lunge, or hold your slash for a powerful, charged AOE swipe in the style of The Legend of Zelda: A Link To the Past.

Its storytelling is a wordless experience that requires interpretation.

With the exception of a grenade ability, these upgrades don’t introduce completely new mechanics, but instead only add interesting elements to your beginning skills. That adds flavor to the combat systems without overcomplicating things. But most impressively, they’re all optional – to the point where you can finish Hyper Light Drifter’s roughly seven-hour campaign without purchasing any upgrades at all, if you’ve got the raw skill to pull it off.

And while I wouldn’t consider Hyper Light Drifter overly hard – I was able to defeat most bosses on my first or second encounter, with the exception of two disproportionately difficult ones – I would also shy away from calling it a style-over-substance kind of experience. It takes a commendable risk with its bold storytelling that intrigues, but doesn’t fully pay off in the end.

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Its storytelling is a wordless experience that requires interpretation. Interacting with an NPC conveys information in storyboard-like sequences. Its repeating, dreamlike cutscenes are cryptic. For me, all this reinforced the idea of drifting through time and space because for a large part of Hyper Light Drifter I was grasping for a handhold as to what the hell was going on.

Heart Machine’s slick fighting systems marry melee slashes and long-ranged firearms with slippery dashes for a simple, potent foundation.

I gathered bits and pieces of the story: an apocalypse, an illness, time travel, and a mysterious dog all play a part. Again, I can’t really be sure how it all fits together exactly, because though I have my theories, they’re just interpretations of a stylish, intriguing series of events and images that never fully makes good on its grand setting. What few direct answers do exist are trapped inside monoliths hidden in secret coves and behind locked doors.

While this genre has a long and proud history of secrets hidden in this fashion, and I did enjoy them at first, the way these story fragments are frustratingly stashed in each of the world’s four regions became increasingly annoying. At their best we’re given a clue, like a ledge that seemingly has no other purpose, and keen observation is rewarded. At their worst, you’re required to throw yourself against each and every wall just to alleviate the anxiety you might miss a hidden opening, or path of proximity triggered, invisible platforms. Something as essential as the keys to understanding the story shouldn’t be hidden behind so much busywork.

The Verdict

Hyper Light Drifter is a gorgeous, trendy hunk of stylish old-school sensibilities mated with the iconic hues of pixelated indie charm. It’s a return to simpler control schemes, building on sound mechanical fundamentals rather than trying to wow with new ways of interaction within each and every checkpoint. Though its wordless storytelling took some of the thrill out of completing the campaign, Hyper Light Drifter is a joy to play, (and replay in the new game plus mode) its mechanical excellence and stylish veneer.