The Pillar: Puzzle Escape Review (Xbox One) – Can I Get A Witness?

A first person puzzle game about drawing lines. We’ve all seen it before, but is imitation the sincerest form of flattery? The Finger Guns review.

Video games turn 60 years old next year. 60! They’ve been a thing for such a long time at this point that – as with any other type of media – it was inevitable that we’d start to see germination, be it genres, control schemes, art styles etc. The likes of Space Invaders and Pac-Man, for example, spawned dozens of clones. However, as the technology used to deliver those games became more sophisticated and the game development talent pool grew ever larger, games became pastiches, rather than thinly veiled copies. And then we have the curious case of The Pillar: Puzzle Escape, a first person puzzle game developed by Paper Bunker and published by eastasiasoft.

Look, there are no two ways around this – The Pillar is what I would politely call ‘heavily influenced’ by another first person puzzle game, Jonathan Blow’s contemplative line-tracer from 2016, The Witness.

This much is obvious from the moment you start the game – you step out of a murky underground chamber to a bright and colourful environment, full of bold geometric structures and lush plant life, that will look very familiar to anyone who played the 2016 title. That’s not necessarily a bad thing in itself, of course. For its faults and its pretension, not many would deny that The Witness was a lovely looking game, and – by largely approximating its look – The Pillar is a similarly pleasing game to look at.

It is, therefore, a shame that the technical side of things isn’t quite as strong as the aesthetic side. The framerate, in particular, was disappointingly erratic for a game that shouldn’t exactly stress the hardware. One puzzle in the second level also became more difficult than it should have been, due to some unfortunate glitching.

Speaking of the puzzles, the similarities to a certain other game continue here, albeit on a more superficial level. The vast majority of the game’s puzzles follow very similar patterns (no pun intended). You are presented with grids of varying sizes, and are tasked with filling them in with lines of varying colours – the trick being to ensure that the lines do not overlap. This starts out simply enough with small grids of 9 to 16 boxes and 2 or 3 colours, but quickly ramps up, adding more lines and more colours. However, you’ll rarely find yourself stuck for too long, and I actually rather admired the simplicity of it all. It’s not quite ‘switch your brain off’ territory, but it was nice to have a game that didn’t require me to work too hard to feel smart.

The only issue is that it never really deviates from that path. The game follows a path of linear progression, with minimal side activity to distract you (this is limited to picking up fragments of pictures around the environment), and there is basically no story to speak of – there is something of a nebulous overarching theme, but there’s no focus to it, and I switched off from caring pretty quickly. Understandably, the lack of variety in gameplay will definitely put some people off. However, if I’m being completely honest, the lack of extraneous bells and whistles actually made The Pillar a more pure experience for me. Whereas The Witness was a game I found myself looking to take breaks from, I was more than happy to plough on with The Pillar, knowing it wouldn’t be a laborious slog.

More than anything else, I just found myself having a really nice and chill time with this game. Every part of it feels designed to leave you in a relaxed state. The environments are pleasantly attractive – bright and bold, but simple and designed to funnel you where you need to go. The soundtrack and in-game effects are minimalist in nature, but fit well with the simplicity of the puzzles and the airy environments. And, of course, the straightforward A-to-B nature of the gameplay means there are times when you can even enter something of a zen flow state at times.

It’s impossible to ignore the similarities to The Witness, and it’s disappointing that it’s so patchy from a technical standpoint, but The Pillar: Puzzle Escape was a short, pleasant and surprisingly enjoyable puzzle game that people should check out. It’s not overly taxing, so you might want to look elsewhere if you’re specifically looking for a challenge, but it’s a fine game for zoning out and killing a couple of hours.

The Pillar: Puzzle Escape is available on Xbox One (reviewed on Xbox Series S), PlayStation 4 and Nintendo Switch.

Developer: Paper Bunker
Publisher: eastasiasoft

Disclaimer: In order to complete this review, we were provided with a promotional copy of the game. For our full review policy, please go here.

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