The Witness does not explain how the puzzle panels are solved.

(Hang on, didn’t I write this in the last Puzzleworks?)

It does not speak directly to the player preferring the island to convey ideas through mechanics and environment. But this approach can leave some players in a state of permanent eyeroll. There’s a faint air, maybe a fetid stench, of pretention that wafts through The Witness. Despite finding it thoroughly engaging, I am sympathetic to estranged players as the game teeters on the fine line between bold artistic statement and player alienation engine.

But keeping everyone happy is The Looker (Bradley Lovell, 2022) which came out just last week. It’s a gold standard parody of The Witness developed by someone who I’m pretty sure loved it. Also, free?

Nutshell: Not too difficult, a handful of moments of frustration – but brilliant.

The Looker emulates the, er, look of its source material. It starts in a claustrophobic tunnel with a few humiliatingly simple tutorial panels. Thick power cables criss-cross the space between puzzles. It also rustles up a few audio logs and an all-too-familiar yellow box lurking just out of reach.

The Looker strips The Witness’ puzzle panel down to its crudest possible form: “draw a line from start to end”. After a few simple puzzles, many of which are legitimate to “cheat” through, you might think that’s all The Looker is: The Stanley Parable of puzzle games, with no actual puzzles to speak of. Not so!

However, you won’t be learning rule sets or battling through a sequence of increasingly mind-bending logic puzzles – most of The Looker is lateral-thinking stuff. The above panel is one such an example. How do you go from Start to End when there’s a thick black line separating them? I was stuck on this one for a little while – it isn’t obvious!

The Looker has some frustrating moments. Occasionally, you’ll be wondering why a puzzle doesn’t solve when you think you have the right answer – I had to solve the final panel several times before the solution took (I have a suspicion why it didn’t). And you might find the clever [redacted] arcade game a bit of a chore. I’ve included the solution below if you don’t want to figure it out yourself.

Leaving this here in case anyone needs it

There are also reports that the game doesn’t save for some players. It might be happening to those who installed onto a drive other than C.

I’m not a fan of parodies as they tend to lurch for low-hanging fruit rather than deliver something more inventive. But The Looker is a smart sendup and even provoked laughter a couple of times, which is a rare gift for any game. Sure, not every joke makes the landing, but enough of them do.

The Looker is small but dense and it’s the density that made it difficult to get my bearings at the beginning; I admit, yes, I got lost in a small courtyard. And The Looker is larger than it first appears…

What an absolute joy. It’s worth it, people, especially that glorious ending. Get downloading.

The Looker is available on Steam for Windows. Thanks to Zarawesome for the heads-up on this one. If you’ve finished the game or don’t mind serious spoilers, there’s a bunch of design notes on the developer’s site.

Previous Puzzlework: Understand

Next Puzzlework: Stereo Boy

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11 thoughts on “Puzzleworks, 8: The Looker

  1. From a Steam review: This game takes all the part you love about The Witness (drawing lines, solving puzzles, lateral thinking, nice relaxing visuals) and removes all the things you don’t (Jonathan Blow).

    So true, except for the part about drawing lines! But… well, you know where I’m going with this one. I have no standing to complain! I can always go back to Understand I guess.

  2. Wow. What a delightful surprise this was. Thanks so much for the recommendation. I loved everything about it (except the arcade cabinet, which was a clever and amusing variation, but just a little tedious—it felt like a cheat when the game placed an E on a square I’d already filled in). I enjoyed the humor and was relieved it never sunk to “Bored of the Rings” level parody.

    I especially liked the execution of the chess puzzle. The fallen king being a door you didn’t notice you’d opened felt very much like clever stuff in The Witness. The art page that wants a certain number of loops was particularly impressive (it looked like it was my actual drawings crumpled in the trash afterwards). Overall just a surprising level of inventiveness and variation on the basic mechanic.

    (Alas, some stare into the abyss and see Johnathan Blow laughing with them; others see him sneering at them. I think players of The Witness mostly see what they brought.)

  3. Dear Mr Dr Gamer

    That was lovely, which I already expressed in twitter, and thank you for bringing this gem to my attention. I wanted to just add one more thing in a space where I feel it’s okay to spoil talk about the ending.

    “Oh wait it’s a giant cock”. I love how in a short sentence this encompasses all the frustration a player could feel about the pretentiousness of the game. Or, if you see depth in it, the struggle and frustration of trying to pierce through it. I am personally somewhere in the second camp – I do recognize the whole philosophical
    musings have merit but without someone there to explain it it’s impenetrable. For all I know it could all be a giant cock and Blow is making a statement against pretentious art while secretly laughing at people conjuring meaning.

    What I am saying is, I found that ending sequence extremely satisfying on multiple levels because of my past struggle of trying to marry the cognitive dissonance of finding The Witness to be pretentious and deep.

    And finally the cheating in the real-life plate puzzle in the stinger was just *chef’s kiss*.

    It’s that time of year to watch The Unbearable Now again.

  4. Sorry, I’ve been buried the last couple of days but I’ve wanted to reply to these comments.

    Urthman: Yes, I concur, the arcade cabinet was both clever but tedious, which was why I felt compelled to include the solution. Because it’s not like it needs special insight but you probably don’t want to go through the pain of redoing it over and over.

    When I brought down the king, similarly, I didn’t check it out for ages, wondering what else I had to do to solve the chess puzzle. What it lacks in “logic” puzzles, The Looker makes up for in little surprises.

    “I think players of The Witness mostly see what they brought.” I feel similarly.

    Maurycy: The shape of the ending was the third moment I laughed out loud. (The other laugh was the advert audio log and the Thomas Pynchon one, omg I did not see that coming.)

    As I said, even though I love The Witness, it has a certain *feeling* to it and if you’re not quite on the same page, that feeling is abrasive, cold. I really appreciate The Looker for lampooning The Witness in the way it does. It’s not a brain-dead whine about the game. Someone put a lot of effort into it!

    (The banana peel. The banana peel!)

    last note
    putting “blow” and “cock” in the same sentence on this website is going to get us banned from the internet

  5. Uh, is the solution I presented… correct? I just did a “speed run” through The Looker and followed my solution. It seems to be in error around step 7.

  6. I think I lucked out on the Snek arcade but it did take a few punts! Definitely the most fiddly and frustrating thing here.

    This was really amusing! I did get stuck very early on due to a small oversight on one puzzle (the STOP sign) but as someone who loved the puzzling in The Witness but hated the pretention wafting through it—despite also appreciating your reading of it!—this was just the tonic.

    In order of biggest laughs for me:

    1) The obnoxiously slow, almost Rube Goldberg-esque light tower. Absolutely skewered.
    2) The ending.
    3) The advert.
    4) The Einstein insanity/practice thing. That’s just a really amusing clash to me.

  7. I can never figure out what definition of “pretentious” people are using that describes The Witness more than most other video games.

    It seems way less pretentious than, say, every Ubisoft game I’ve ever played.

  8. Phew, okay, I did have time to stop by the comments on Monday but instead used the time to work on the Five Stages of SSR film script.

    I’m glad you enjoyed The Looker, Gregg. I didn’t even realise – because it’s so small – that there’s a tiny mirror on top the light tower that opens up to redirect the beam, which explains why it deflects in weird ways. I just thought the laser light was “broken” for a gag.

    Urthman – I don’t know when I last played an Ubisoft game, so I have no reference for that comparison! But I will say I found the delivery of the many monologues just too similar to the stereotype of the self-indulgent and terribly po-faced artist.

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