The Witness for iPhone & iPad Review

iOS ports of successful indie-developed PC games seems to be the normal progression of digital entertainment these days, with developer Thekla having done just that with its open-world puzzle game, The Witness ($9.99). Critically acclaimed on the PC, does The Witness deserve that same level of acclaim on the iOS platform?  Read on to find out.

Related: 4 Best Free iOS Game Apps for Kids

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Similar to the classic virtual world puzzle game Myst, The Witness begins in first-person perspective on an island with no explanation of who you are or how you got there. As you wander about the island, you discover empty structures connected with power cables that are activated by solving literally hundreds of maze-like and spatial puzzles. As you solve these puzzles, more areas unlock with even more, harder puzzles to solve. Along the way you will uncover esoteric audio recordings that generate more questions than answers. For those who persist in solving all the hundreds of puzzles throughout the game, a philosophical ending awaits. Indeed, this ending is so obtuse that numerous attempts to explain its meaning fill pages of internet search results.

The Witness

The technical aspects of the game deserve high marks for its near perfect translation of the PC desktop source and the intelligent use of the open-world navigation camera. Rather than attempt to emulate arrow keys or an on-screen gamepad to move players from one location to another, the iOS version relies on simple taps to automatically guide the player to the intended area. Once arrived, players can scan the view by swiping up/down/left/right with their finger, as well as pinch to zoom in or out for a closer inspection of objects or puzzle palettes. While not perfect, this control scheme is vastly superior and intelligent to the more traditional virtual gamepad overlay that is adopted with mixed results from other PC game ports.

The Witness Puzzles

Graphically, the game uses a striking range of colors to convey the island habitat and boundaries. But the real sense of immersion is with the ambient sound. The game's opening screen recommends wearing headphones, which do make a big difference in further drawing the player into The Witness. The game runs equally well on a newer iPhone or iPad, though the iPad is by far the better of the two with its large screen and touch targets.

More Witness Puzzles

Final Verdict

Overall, The Witness is one of those games that displays how PC games can effectively make the transition to mobile while providing as good as, or in this case, an even better, more immersive gaming experience compared to its original platform incarnation. The game is best suited for people who enjoy the thrill of solving increasingly challenging visual puzzles and are driven to succeed even as the puzzle difficulty scorches their brain.

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Mike Riley is a frequent contributor to several technical publications and specializes in emerging technologies and new development trends. Mike was previously employed by RR Donnelley as the company’s Chief Scientist, responsible for determining innovative technical approaches to improve the company’s internal and external content services. Mike also co-hosted Computer Connection, a technology enthusiast show broadcast on Tribune Media's CLTV.