As you explore, hoping to discover some explanation for the absence of anybody, you encounter tables set up across the island, with magazines on them: Take a Puzzle, Puzzle Selection, Arrow-Words, Sudoku Monthly...
With nothing better to do, you endeavour to solve some of these puzzles between bursts of exploring. Every now and then your phone dings with a Facebook notification: that friend of yours who insists on sharing philosophical quotes, in an effort to appear deep, is up to her old business again.
That's The Witness.
I'm not an intentional heretic.
Though I'm sure there are plenty of Juke Hazzard-style reviewers who go out of their way to be controversial, I always feel left out when I stumble over a game that has been adored by the gaming populace at large.
The Witness is one of those games; I wanted to like it, as everyone else seemed to... and I didn't.
It shares DNA with Portal and The Talos Principle - both of which I loved. And yet, it gives me no great pleasure to say I came away from The Witness underwhelmed and irritated. Also: bored.
It's just one of those games that I had to conclude isn't as clever as it thinks it is. I was left wondering if that's what's behind a lot of the game's acclaim to date; reviewers not wanting to appear more stupid than they want to be perceived as. Is it just The Emperor's New Game? Or am I the only one who isn't getting it?
It's sort of equivalent to that movie, The Master, in that it doesn't handhold, doesn't talk down to the audience... and critics seem to read meaning into it, presumably for fear of coming over as too dumb to have 'got it'. Or, at least, too dumb to have enjoyed it. In both cases, I came away annoyed, like having been at an overlong dinner party with a well-read buffoon.
Sometimes, if the meaning of something is hard to get... it's because there isn't a deeper meaning.
CAN I GET A WITNESS?
In The Witness, there's no explaining what you're there to do: you've an undeniably pretty open world to explore in first-person, yet given no overt instruction as to the purpose or method for solving the puzzles which are dotted around the island, on screens.
The solutions are there, implicit in the puzzles themselves, or hidden as clues in the landscape, but they become very hard, very quickly. Before you can solve a puzzle you first have to work out what the rules are. At their most basic, they're maze puzzles, like those "Can you get the dog to its kennel?"-type games you'd find in old comics; you have to draw a line from point A to point B.
As new elements are thrown into the mix, frequently, it's easier - and less stressful - to simply walk away, and return to a set of puzzles later. Sometimes it's better to walk away from the game itself. Of course, solving puzzles usually unlocks a new area, and you'll eventually have to return to that one particularly harrowing conundrum if you want to see more of the world.
It's a game that has been put together with rare skill... but that doesn't necessarily make it a fun game to play.
It seems a particularly odd decision - when you've got a game set in such a gorgeous 3D world - to have the player spend most of it staring at a succession of 2D maze puzzles. Admittedly, clues to solving those puzzles are found in the world around you, but at it's heart this is, "Get the dog to its kennel" with bonus philosophical guff, delivered in the form of audiologs and video clips.
A lot of what's there with The Witness is fine. It looks gorgeous, the puzzles are unquestionably clever... it's obviously a game made by a rare talent. The landscape is full of secrets, with imagery that is beautiful and beguiling.
Frustratingly, however, I didn't much like Braid either - the previous, equally heralded, equally clever, game by The Witnesses's creator Jonathan Blow - so maybe it's me. Maybe it's just chemical, and there's something about me and Blow that doesn't mix.
Thing is, I get that some people say they love games like this, I get that some people love The Master, or enjoy Sudoku. And I get that maybe I'm simply not the intended audience. Yet, The Talos Principle is very similar to The Witness - even down to the stabs at philosophy - and it didn't annoy me at all.
I just can't escape the feeling that there's nothing more to The Witness than what's there. It feels like Blow wants us to think the game is smarter than it is, and that rankles. The sheer deviousness of the puzzles feels like him showing off already; it doesn't need to be all enigmatic and chin-stroke-y to boot.
If there is something deeper going on here, or some level of enjoyment that isn't immediately obvious, it eluded me. The Witness is essentially a load of maze games - clever and increasingly devious maze games - with fancy set dressing, and a side of pomposity.
SUMMARY: Like spending your tropical holiday doing sudoku to blot out the philosophical ramblings of the pseudo-intellectual bore you accidentally came away with.
SCORE: 5.6634324234 points out of 100%