Hands-on with The Witness on PS4

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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 modern 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 world, 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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9 Author Replies

  • Looks stunning….cant wait to play it!

  • I want this game more than KZ or any other launch title. i wish it was launch title oh well. Next year, this is one of the games that i will purchase on day one.

    • Yeah, as much as I’m looking forward to games like Killzone and Resogun, I really can’t wait to get lost in this world.

  • Reminds me of a modern take on Myst. Can’t wait… downloading when it launches.

  • The Witness looks great. As a fan of puzzle games, exploration, and beautiful game settings, I expect that I’ll get this one on Day 1.

    Has Sony considered bringing Braid to the PS+ Instant Game Collection? It’d be great to get Mr. Blow’s prior work broader exposure before The Witness comes out.

  • I am very much looking forward to this game; I just wish it wasn’t so far forward. So far, I don’t know of any new games that I’ll want to play on my launch PS4 for many months. So, good thing I have my PS3 and Vita backlogs to occupy my gaming time.

    • I’ve got a huuuge PS3 backlog, too. PS4’s got plenty coming on launch day though… I don’t know how I’m going to have time for all these games!

  • I am really looking forward to this game. I first learned of it a couple of years ago and I didn’t know what it was about or what platform it would be on, but the beauty really captured me. With some games, you see them and you just know. Ico, Shadow of the Colossus, Enslaved, Majin and the Forsaken Kingdom etc.. I bought or pre-ordered all of these games based solely on my initial impressions from the screenshots I saw, knowing that they would be special. The Witness is one of those games. I know this without a doubt.

  • This is the type of next gen title I have been looking forward to playing. Day one purchase when this hits.

  • Really wish this came out sooner. Takes me back to Myst.

  • The game looks amazing!!!!

  • This is the type of game where you can just walk and relax to the scenery and no doubt the soundtrack will be superb. Really looking forward to this game cant wait.

  • I just hope they price it appropriately.

  • In 2007, my husband came home from a party and said “I played this PlayStation 3 game called PixelJunk Eden and now we must get a PlayStation 3.”

    In February 2013, when I saw The Witness presented onstage, I knew we would be buying a PS4 as well. No other game has me nearly as interested.

    Any word on 3D support? are the audio assets bluray-quality (24-bit and/or losslessly-compressed)?

    It would be awesome to also get realMYST. Love these kinds of games.

  • Witness the fitness by Roots Manuva should be the theme song

  • This is my most anticipated PS4 game. Even without Jonathan’s brilliant previous game, this one would be on the top of my list just by the art direction and the gameplay concept. Day-one buy for me.

  • I have a ps4 its ok so far just playing demos because the games are not out yet but I have a question will the ps home be avable on the 15 of novebmer

  • Certainly one of the games I am most looking forward to when I get a PS4.

  • Still look like ps3 lol

  • the game looks so beautiful and free roaming is awesome.

  • The Game Really Does Look Somewhat Classical – Really Liked The Background Music Myself But Even So this Doesn’t Look Like A Game I Want :/ i like life simulators,stuff that looks real or can seemingly simulate life,games like watch dogs, or elder scrolls, Open world/free roam/rpg/adventure/action games

    i might play this tho if 1 of my friends get it :)

  • Looking like Mist/Riven.

  • I’ll buy a “PS4” when Sony FINALLY LEARNS HOW TO BUILD A WORKING BLU-RAY “DISC DRIVE” THAT LASTS LONGER THAN “1&3/4” YEARS! I had VERY FIRST “PS1” in ’95 & AFTER A “FULL YEAR” I HAD TO “TURN IT UPSIDE DOWN” JUST TO GET DISCS TO PLAY! I had “PS2” & THE DISC DRIVES WENT OUT ON “2” OF THEM! NOW, I’m on my “2nd” PS3 & NOW I OWN “2 PS3’s” WITH “SHOTTY DISC DRIVES”. Learn how to make a DISC DRIVE, “Sony”! After all my experiences with “PS products”, I now believe that Sony puts a “timed mechanism” in every “disc” product that eventually “BREAKS IT” forcing us consumers to fork-out more money for Sony’s GARBAGE PRODUCTS! And I know that Sony makes just as much money off of “consumer repairs” , like they do with their actual products. THE “SHOTTY” DISC DRIVES PUT IN SONY’S CONSOLES IS 1 OF THE BIGGEST SCAMS THAT I HAVE EVER ENDURED IN MY WHOLE ENTIRE LIFE! That “PS4” can sit & ROT ON STORE’S SHELVES UNTIL SONY LEARNS HOW TO MAKE A WORKING DISC DRIVE THAT LASTS LONGER THAT “1 & 3/4” YEARS! A GARBAGE CONSOLE, INDEED!

  • As it’s open world, maybe Myst x’s 10?

  • Get your free PSN Codes only at “http://www.FREEPS3POINTS.TK”! Thank you so much for the free key!

  • Now this is what the PS4 needs more original content not these remade games from PS3. If Sony doesn’t want to loose to Microsoft they need to keep bringing more originality.

  • Looks really interesting and fun to be honest I might actually pick this up.

  • Reminds me of Myst, but possibly better. That is a good thing!

    Been keeping an eye on it.

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