Posted 6:10pm

Hands-on with The Witness on PS4

Shortly after I heard the phrase “PlayStation 4” for the very first time, I received a blog post, a batch of screenshots and a trailer for a game called The Witness, from legendary game designer, Jonathan Blow. This was my first exposure to the impending next generation of video games.

My excitement for The Witness may, admittedly, be amplified by my sentimental nature (it is the first PS4 game I ever laid eyes on, after all). After getting a chance to play it at an event last week, however, I’m relieved to know that my excitement is justified.

The Witness on PS4

Jonathan Blow helped to bring mainstream attention to the indie game development movement with his 2008 classic, Braid, which famously twisted the minds of gamers worldwide into knots. As such, it should be expected that the challenges you’ll face in The Witness will put your mental capacity to the test. Thankfully, you won’t jump straight into the mind-numbing brain-twisters — The Witness is designed in such a way that you’ll be gradually introduced to new concepts that will allow you to solve progressively more complex puzzles.

It’s especially impressive that The Witness conveys such a welcoming, coherent sense of progression in what is ultimately an open-ended, non-linear game. You’re given no direction when you set foot on the island — go forth and explore!

If you watched the debut trailer for The Witness (embedded above), you already know this one’s a looker. The art direction is purposefully simplistic, allowing for a world that manages to be abstract, but believable. As you wander across this island, you’ll traverse a surprising number of different environments: you’ll move from lush, green trees to a barren desert, or look across a river to see a field of cherry blossom trees in the distance. Get adventurous, and you might find yourself climbing a snowy mountain with a view of the whole island below.

It should be noted that during all this exploration, and all these drastic climate changes, never once did I encounter a loading screen. Turn on The Witness, and get lost in its simple (yet beautiful), relaxing (but sometimes maddening) world.

The Witness on PS4

Controls in The Witness are straightforward: Move and look with DualShock 4′s refined analog sticks, hold L1 or L2 to run, hit X to go into what I took to calling “draw mode” (pressing Circle takes you back out), wherein you’ll interact with the game’s myriad puzzles. Interestingly, you can enter draw mode anywhere — in the bit of the game I played, I never got a “Press X to Puzzle” prompt.

The puzzles themselves usually take on the form of some sort of maze. When you first engage with one, a small light pulses to indicate where to begin drawing. After you start following a path (navigating with either analog stick), another light will pulse to show you where you want to end up. At first, you’ll just need to get from Point A to Point B. As you get further along, your objectives will start to become less clear. Eventually, you might find yourself staring blankly at the screen, feeling helpless and slightly frustrated. Stick with it, though! Once the solution “clicks,” the feeling of clarity and accomplishment is incomparable.

The Witness on PS4

Despite the lack of music or dialogue, sound design in The Witness is taken quite seriously. The sound of the player’s footsteps changes depending on the environment — dirt sounds different than grass sounds different than snow sounds different than stone, and so on. It sounds silly, but I found myself paying extra close attention to see if I could hear a repeated footstep sound effect (spoiler: I couldn’t).

All these elements — the soothing visuals, intricate sound design, and smart puzzle progression — coalesce to form an ambitious, yet accessible follow-up to one of the indie community’s most respected entries.

The Witness comes to PS4 in the first half of 2014.

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standtall007 25 October, 2013 @ 7:02 pm   1

I can sincerely and honestly say that The Witness is my most anticipated PS4 Indie title i have to say even though the trailer is “old” but it always catches my attention and i really love the trailer more and more for each time i watch it :D i think that this game will be very big for those who are truly indie lovers!
i must say that it would be very weird for me to give this game (when i have once gotten my hands on the game) e.g only 5 of 10 stars because the game has everything for people who loves puzzles but may or may not be much into stories, I love both parts so hopefully the game will have both but even if not then at least 9 out of 10 stars alone because of the graphics!

 
Dansmith89 25 October, 2013 @ 8:02 pm   2

im with you on that, theres lots of people dissing indie games at the minute, but i must say i dont know why when lots of effort goes into them, im intrigued by this, i for one will check it out, great work guys

 

Thank you Justin for pulling me a bit further into the beauty of the Witness. When it comes to indie titles I’m very split. I loath the 8 bit pixel crap. Going to an age games looked and played awful is not for me. But the uniqueness AND beauty of games like Flower and Journey can excite me as much as a big studio titles (and often even more).
The Witness falls in that category. Giving a big nod to Myst without the frustrating dead end. I love how the world looks and can’t wait to explore!

 
Stonesthrow 25 October, 2013 @ 9:03 pm   4

God, I still LOVE that song!! Is it an excisting one or is it made for this game specifically? Please tell me the name if not :p
Also, if this is an indication of how indies are going to look, color me hooked :p Really reminds me of Datura and Unfinished swan, two of my favorite PSN games.

 
standtall007 25 October, 2013 @ 9:30 pm   5

- Stonesthrow : the song is an existing song from some group i 2003 called mediaeval baebes and the song is called Glass Window it is the perfect song for the trailer, at least that’s my opinion :D

 

I’m totally with Otto T on this – indie games ‘can’ be stunning…. and The Witness looks like another fine example.

I only wish more indie devs showed a similar attention to detail, instead of churning out another 8-bit 2D game that looks like it was developed on a Vic 20.

We should be ‘progressing’ not ‘regressing’. :/

 
standtall007 26 October, 2013 @ 7:41 am   7

The_Force >> That is exactly what i also mean i don’t like those games where they don’t “put” any “real” effort in them like those 8-bit games that seems to be unjustified popular… heck they might be good but i’m not into that kind of games though i do like a lot of good old Nes games from that era but what i think is that the 8-bit games should have died WITH the Nes extinction!

 
Carnivius_Prime 26 October, 2013 @ 8:28 am   8

Screw that. I love 8-bit (and 16-bit) style games. And I mean proper 8-bit styled ones, not minimalistic stuff by people who can’t draw. It takes REAL EFFORT to be able to draw great looking sprites and tiles within the limitations of 8-bit hardware. And I want some more new ones and less pretentious arty-style indie game (I loathed Flower and Journey… dull tedious pointless ‘games’ and I didn’t get on with Braid at all, but then the muddy graphics put me off a lot on that one, ease up on the Photoshoppy tools eh?).

Sorry I don’t like the look of this at all. Just all looks like so much pointless padding to simple gameplay. Waste of time as is pretty much everything I’ve seen for PS4. I’ll save my money thanks. So far the PS4 would just be a big unused block of crap under my TV while my PS3 would still get all the attention.

 
Stonesthrow 26 October, 2013 @ 2:26 pm   9

@standtall007 Thx bro, gonna check out their other stuff too :p

 

Watching that makes me want to play a Myth game :)

 

I liked Braid and Jonathan Blow is a nicer guy than his controversial public image suggests.
But “legendary” game developer? Even a PR person, as Justin Massongill, should be reasonable enough to register that this is b*****t.
But maybe you are a legend already these days, after you manage to release one good game, eh? Poor Shigeru Miyamoto.

 
rmhbolton 28 October, 2013 @ 10:36 am   12

Sounds just what i want – a great looking game which is relaxing and taxing(on the brain) and hopefully no time limits or restrictions.
This could be great if there is multi player with chat , puzzleing out the game together .