Best Concept: The Witness
“Do you like drawing a line through a maze? Good, because that’s mostly what you’ll be doing here.” This is how critics of Jonathan Blow’s The Witness could sum it up with disdain. The thing is, they’re not really wrong. The Witness truly is all about puzzles, and each and every one of its several hundred conundrums does indeed involve drawing a line through a maze from beginning to end. Yet there is a tranquil quality, a serene beauty in exploring the colourful deserted island you’ve been stranded on, working out the knack for one challenge after another as they change and evolve the further you progress.
In some ways, it’s what’s absent that makes The Witness a standout game concept. No characters, no dialog, no music, and no inventory items already set this game apart from 95% of its contemporaries. Further, having no user interface, no hint screens, no instructions, no overt story, and no real restriction on where to go make it even more unique. It’s just you and a thought-provoking open world, with nothing to rely on but your wits to ferret out the rules and twists of each and every puzzle. Blow has utter confidence in his players’ intellect, and the satisfaction in first finding and then solving even the most elusive of puzzles is nothing short of addictive. But the real kicker lies in the exploration between bouts of puzzle-solving, as clues can be found anywhere and constructing your own theories about the history and purpose of this enigmatic island paradise is an integral part of the experience. It certainly isn’t a game for everyone, but for so unapologetically staying true to its puzzle-intensive vision, The Witness is the runaway winner of our Best Concept award for 2016.
The Last Guardian
The Black Watchmen: Season 2 – Enduring Conflict
Readers’ Choice: The Witness
So we agree that Jonathan Blow struck upon an ingenious concept for an adventure game: actually having puzzles! Yes, while so many games get easier and more streamlined, The Witness goes against the flow in delivering a blatant puzzle-fest. But it doesn’t stop there. These tests of ingenuity are all line puzzles, starting out easy and becoming dastardly in difficulty, evolving with new rulesets to keep you on your toes, while the solutions and clues aren’t always where you expect them to be. The environment is an important component, and only the most persistent and observant need apply here, with a willingness to constantly re-examine assumptions. In the incredibly vast world of The Witness, there’s always more to discover, more to admire, and much, much more to finally understand. Such a bold, imaginative approach proved worthy of your award as well as ours.
The Last Guardian
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Next up: Best Setting... the envelope, please!