Sony really wants you to stay home. Last year, the company launched a Play At Home program to incentivize people to stay inside during the early days of the pandemic. PlayStation users could download free games without needing a PS Plus subscription. Sony revived the program last month and it's more enticing than ever.
PlayStation owners can download 10 free games from now until April 22. This isn’t a throwaway batch of freebies either. It contains some of the best indie games of the last decade. While every single game Sony’s offering is worth playing, the crown jewel is one of the greatest puzzle games ever made: The Witness.
Created by Jonathan Blow of Braid fame, The Witness is something of an open-world puzzler with a simple premiere. Players wander across a beautiful, colorful island filled with panels. Each one contains a different puzzle where players need to draw a line between two nodes. Each panel has a different maze-like grid that requires players to reason out the right path for each line.
Sounds easy enough, right? Well, it’s a little more complicated.
Panels have different symbols on them, which signify different rules that a solution needs to follow. For example, some grids may have little hexagon dots scattered throughout the maze. A successful line needs to pass through all of those before landing at the end node. Others feature black and white squares, signifying that players need to use the line to separate the two colors as part of the solution.
Those are just the most basic examples. The complexity starts to scale as different rules stack on top of one another. Mastering the island means learning how each puzzle works and taking mental note of every little nuance.
What’s incredible about The Witness is that it never verbalizes any of this. There’s no text to explain how a puzzle works or on-screen hints to point players in the right direction. Instead, it strictly communicates through its own visual language.
Whenever it introduces a new puzzle, The Witness gradually gives players an invisible tutorial as to how it works. In the case of the black and white squares, it’ll start with a simple grid that features one of each puzzle. With not many line possibilities available, players will inevitably solve it whether or not they understand how. The next puzzle will ratchet that up with two of each, adding the slightest bit of complexity. After five grids, there’s a good chance players will have picked up on exactly how to solve for the symbol without needing explicit help.
By the end of the game, puzzles that seem completely foreign become simple to solve. That’s because players are learning a new language as they progress. Every little mechanic builds to give players a full visual understanding of the island’s rules. That culminates in a final post-game gauntlet that puts the player's ability to learn rules to the ultimate test. Master the world of The Witness and get rewarded with one of the most prestigious badges of honor in any puzzle game.
At its core, The Witness is a game about learning and it's one heck of a teacher. By not holding players' hands and trusting their own ability to process information, it’s a shining example of how to make tutorials feel seamless. It’s a golden teaching moment that other games should aspire to.
Though, the same rules do not apply to dads who want to teach their hungry kids how to open a can of beans.