This week, Zero Punctuation reviews The Witness & Bombshell.
The Witness is a new game by Jonathan Blow. Ironically, it sucks. Mnehhh, obnoxious laugh.
It’s a first-person puzzle game inspired by Myst in that you’re a faceless dork on a mysterious island that was bought by the Disney corporation in the 70s, but they never quite figured out what they were going to do with it, so now you roam the partially-constructed castles and pirate ships while occasionally sitting down to fill out a puzzle from the back of a cereal box.
Of course, the thing about Myst and the walking simulator genre is that there’s usually some kind of story going on to make you want to keep going, and I’m not saying The Witness doesn’t have a plot, but if it does, it’s like a single balloon tied to the corpse of a sperm whale. I didn’t finish it. If it’s anything like Braid, Jonathan Blow’s other game, the story bits that tie everything together or reveal what the point the whole thing was probably come at the end. But I wouldn’t know. Hold up a Mars bar at the far end of an obstacle course of broken glass and pictures of my parents fucking, and I won’t care if it’s the most sumptuous Mars bar the factory ever crafted. By the end, I’m just gonna walk straight past it and knee you in the fucking bollocks.
The game boasts over five hundred puzzles, and I very much believe it. What it fails to mention is that these are over five hundred iterations of the same puzzle, which involves drawing a line around a grid in order to satisfy a variety of esoteric conditions, which the game is frequently very bad at explaining, 'cause I guess written instructions are the shackles of the Man, man.
But if you do figure them out, then they guide you through the paths of the mysterious overworld which is, let’s be fair, very pretty in a "hotel room artwork with the saturation turned up" sort of way. There’s a bit of an invisible wall pandemic, but there’s a bold use of contrasting colors and I like the water effects particularly.
The trouble is that most of the puzzles don’t integrate with the lovely environments at all. Yeah, you can dangle your feet in this babbling brook and enjoy the sunlight playing off the flowers, but at some point you’re gonna have to get up and gormlessly stare at a piece of graph paper someone nailed to the wall, and figure out how to draw a line that separates all the colored squares, creates a space shaped like a Tetris block, and disappears up the bum of a cartoon horse. It’s like wandering around Disneyland with a book of word searches.
“Awww, the mean old puzzles hurt Yahtzee-boo-boo’s fragile little game-y brain-y wain. Perhaps he’d be more suited to the kind of puzzle where you only draw straight lines connecting a shotgun barrel to a foreign insurgent’s left testicle!” Hey, Twatfinder General, I solved the puzzles, I just wasn’t having fun doing so. I completed the whole island, turned on all the laser beams, opened up the mountain to what I suspect was the final climactic area, and then the game threw fifteen more line-drawing puzzles at my face, and frankly fuck that. “Congratulations on getting through that bowl of dog food, player. Here’s your reward: another helping of dog food.”
And another thing: whatever visionary artistic benefit one gets from a complete lack of music, a small amount of testing should have revealed probably wasn’t worth it. Silence is good for atmosphere building up to a certain point, but the silence in Witness starts weighing on me like a granite fez, and not in a fun Silent Hill oppressive sort of way, more the “if I don’t alt-tab out and put on some music or a podcast, I am going to fall asleep so hard that the spacebar will get embedded in my face like an impromptu Groucho Marx disguise."
So in summary, get The Witness if you genuinely can’t ever do enough cereal box maze puzzles. Personally, I’m more of a Junior Jumble man.
So, speaking of jumblies, let’s go about as far along the tone spectrum as we can for our next game. “Hey Yahtzee,” said Steam towards the end of the week, “do you remember that announcement trailer you saw a while back for a game called Bombshell?” I do indeed! It was one of the worst trailers I’ve ever seen. I think they made it by gluing poser models together with cold spunk. “Oh. Well, the game’s out now.” Peachy fucking keen!
Bombshell is a top-down shooter with a somewhat retro air to it published by 3D Realms of all people, the Duke Nukem lads. So maybe one could think of this as their penance for all those female characters in Duke Nukem whose sole contribution to the experience was breasts, optionally attached to their bodies, because Bombshell has a female protagonist. Way to prove those femi-Nazi haters wrong, 3D Realms! Although just to be safe, maybe you should play up the fact she’s a woman another six or seven million times.
Bombshell champions the strong female character in that utterly cringeworthy way that makes me slightly nostalgic for PC gaming in the 90s. So of course she’s an unflappable badass who’s effortlessly better than all the boys, and bubbles constantly with nonspecific rage. And the fact that she’s a woman is the central if not only element of her identity. The single fact that tells you everything you need to know is that she uses a rocket launcher called “The P.M.S.” Wow, that’s some next-level shit there. Suppose we should be grateful it wasn’t hot pink and fired Sex & the City DVDs.
Anyway, Bombshell journeys through a portal to an alien world in order to save the president from invading aliens. Better keep that Oscar for Best Screenplay on hand. The president’s also female and identical in personality to Bombshell because coming up with one strong female archetype used up half the budget and Bombshell’s tits took care of the rest.
But let’s get off this topic, 'cause I can sense the gender politics vultures circling, and frankly I couldn’t give two sucks on your mum’s fat titties how positive a role model Bombshell presents for young women with rocket launchers if the game’s fun, and it isn’t. Again I found myself reaching for the alt-tab to find a podcast, although in this case it wasn’t for lack of sound, it was to drown out the fucking awful quips Bombshell throws out on a per-second basis. “How many aliens does it take to change a lightbulb?” Ooh, I think I know this one, Bombshell, is it the same as the last twenty-seven times you asked, you twat?!
It also helped to pass the time when I was plodding through same-y maps tracking sidequest objectives cause the game persisted in the delusion that it’s an RPG, even though the weapon and stat upgrades are less significant than a pubic louse in a cancer ward. I’d suggest skipping the sidequests, but unfortunately the map doesn’t differentiate between which vague indicator marks the main quest and which the optional ones, so get ready to backtrack like a politician suddenly noticing a live mic.
As for the action itself, if you shoot monsters, they usually respond by falling over, so that’s one star at least. But the game has a strange obsession with making you jump over instant death chasms, which in a top-down isometric perspective incorporates a high-stakes game of “guess the distance.” The interface layout is horrible, with the extremely vital health percentage that tells you when you’re about to die tucked away in tiny-winey font between your cup size and tampon inventory.
I think the moment I knew my opinion wasn’t gonna change was after I died a few times to a boss monster with a strong resemblance to a huge spiney tentacled cock. Maybe that’s just my interpretation, but I think it’s a point against the game if it can’t even distract me from the phantom penis monsters.
- Oh my God JC a bomb: Ben "Yahtzee" Croshaw
- What really disappointed me is that there are no parts of The Witness where Harrison Ford knobs an Amish lady
- Let's hope this witness never comes forward