Blow could have cheaply and easily cashed in on a dozen sequels (The Five Nights at Freddy's formula) that remixed his hit game's time-bending, platforming formula. Instead, he began work in 2009 on a very different sort of game, a first-person puzzle/adventure designed around solving mazes. After years of waiting, The Witness finally hit PCs and the Playstation 4 in early 2016, and after having spent hours in its world I'm convinced that it's one of the best puzzle games I've played in years.
The Witness has a deceptively simple premise: The player wakes up on a bright, beautiful island with no other life in sight. Interaction happens entirely within line-based puzzles; navigating linear mazes, forming specific shapes, dividing objects within fields, tracing the behavior of sight and sound. What really makes this game special, aside from its lovely, atmospheric world, is the method in which players learn how to solve its puzzles.
|Your new home for a while.|
|The simplest puzzle language is introduced here.|
|Look closer: A gesture of prayer hides within the Earth.|
I've got a few comments to make on end-game content, so stop reading now if you care about spoilers. I'm not directly giving away any puzzle solutions here.
|Follow the Beam|
|This is worse than it looks.|
|The slow freedom of a boat on rails.|
|I liked these triangle puzzles. I dislike that there's no safe place in the game to slowly learn their language comfortably.|
|I definitely will not.|
Was the whole game a VR experiment? Is it just a game people in the in-game world play? Does this scene mean anything in the context of the game itself? Did nothing happen on the island, or is this scene irrelevant to the loose, environmental narrative? Is Blow telling players that if they don't take a break and spend time in the real world they're bound to collapse into delusion? Whatever is intended, we're free to make our own interpretations; anyone who says that the game has just one definitive meaning is ignoring the way it focuses on point of view and on symbolic interpretation, both in its puzzles and in its lectures.
And if the figure at the end is Jonathan Blow, the ending finishes up with him falling over "dead" as we cut to black. No more loops, it's all over. We are The Witness, figuratively, to the Death of the Author, right there on the screen. And I think that's a pretty good punchline.