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The Witness – a stunning open world puzzler

Developer: Thekla
Price: $10/£10
Size: 2.33GB
Version: 1.3
Platform: iPhone & iPad

The Witness

Update! The Witness on iOS has only been updated a handful of times since it launched in 2017, and in each case it was for bug fixing or technical improvements. It’s essentially the same game it’s always been. But is that still good enough in 2020?

So what’s new? The Witness remains a special experience any way you look at it, and there’s little to compare with it on the App Store. The Talos Principle arrived around the same time, and more recently we’ve had the mind-bending Manifold Garden on Apple Arcade that ticks some of the same boxes. But Jonathan Blow’s game continues to feel distinctive, with its own bold aesthetic and singular commitment to a certain kind of slidey logic puzzle. It’s as big, beautiful and clever as it’s ever been, and you should buy it now.

Revised rating: Still blowing minds. ★★★★★


Our original review, written in October 2017, is presented in its entirety below.

The Witness isn’t like any mobile puzzler you’ve played before. It’s smarter, prettier, and more ambitious than virtually anything else in the genre.

Ostensibly a series of abstract line-drawing puzzles, what truly sets the game apart is the open environment that contains them all. The setting is a mysterious island, and it’s one that you’re free to explore at your own pace in first person view.

There’s a whole island to explore

Just tap where you want to go and you’ll move there. Slide with two fingers and you’ll take a step in that direction – an essential move given that some of The Witness’s puzzles incorporate perspective.

As such, The Witness is almost as much of an adventure game as it is a puzzler.

You’ll often get sequences of puzzles to solve

It’s easy to be beguiled by the sheer beauty of this stunning environment. Developer Thekla has opted for a vivid, hyper-real art style that accentuates bold colors, from the shocking pinks of a cherry blossom orchard to the reflected deep blue skies and puffy white clouds of a tranquil bay area.

You could easily use a screenshot from this game as your next iPhone wallpaper, it’s that picturesque.

Not all puzzles are square

You’ll need to snap to attention pretty sharpish though, because The Witness means business. Its diagram-like puzzles, which lie on little panels embedded in the environment, start basic but rapidly ramp up in difficulty.

At their simplest, you’ll need to draw a line from one point to another. Pretty soon, however, you’ll encounter mazy diagrams that require you to hoover up dots, mirrored puzzles that tie a second line to yours, blocks that require corralling and separating with your line, and much more.

Some puzzles mirror the environment

Perhaps the most satisfying puzzles are those that directly reflect or incorporate the beautiful environment they’re set in. It would be wrong to spoil any of these, but remember what we said about the importance of perspective and always be mindful of your surroundings.

What’s important to note here is that there’s absolutely no explanatory text or speech in The Witness. Creator Jonathan Blow has placed the ultimate trust in us to follow the logical breadcrumb trails that have been carefully laid out.

It’s like an incredibly benign Lost at times

As a result, the feeling of being totally lost and dumbfounded isn’t rare here. The game requires a degree of patience and concentration to progress through – and possibly even a note or sketch app running in the background.

The Witness may not be for everyone, then. If you’re looking to sprint through a couple of casual brain ticklers in between bus stops, look elsewhere.

Touch controls are intuitive if occasionally awkward

Those touchscreen controls are something of a double-edged sword too – perfect for the puzzles themselves, occasionally fiddly when you’re trying to navigate the island.

But if you’re happy to take a breath and slowly sink into a peaceful virtual world filled with beautiful sights and mysterious contraptions, there’s nothing better on the App Store right now.