Islands of Insight is like The Witness with multiplayer | Hands-on preview

by on October 1, 2023

Sometimes the cure for those gaming blues is to slow down the pace and just relax with a lovely puzzle game. One of my personal favourites in the genre is The Witness. Having a world to explore alongside progressively more tricky puzzles to solve just works for me, and I’m surprised that so few games have tried to copy it. Well, Islands of Insight is the closest I’ve come to finding something similar to the 2016 classic, but with a significant twist. It’s an online multiplayer game.

How does that work I hear you ask? Well, you’re tasked with solving all sorts of puzzles to uncover the mystery of the floating islands where the game takes place, and as you’re doing this there will be dozens of random players doing the same thing. Now for the most part it’s easy to ignore the others who are jumping around and staring at different runes and grids of symbols, but if you’re stuck you can use them for a bit of guidance. It’s a really interesting setup for a puzzle game and one that’s sure to stop you from reaching for Google when you’re stuck.

A screenshot of Islands of Insight

The actual puzzles in Islands of Insight are varied, and thankfully fun to solve too. Some of the first puzzles you’ll encounter involve filling a grid full of black and white squares, with certain rules you need to follow as you fill. Sometimes you’ll need to ensure that all that a certain colour is grouped together in one big shape, other times you’ll be forbidden from having four squares of the same colour adjacent to each other. It sounds more complex than it is though, and the game does a great job of slowly introducing you to how the puzzles work.

As you progress new elements will be added to the familiar puzzles to make them more tricky. Those simple grids you colour in will soon have all sorts of different numbers you need to contain with the corresponding number of squares, and before you know it you’ll be a master of the grid. The gradual introduction of mechanics again feels just like The Witness, and nothing is more satisfying than that moment when you realise you understand something new.

A screenshot of Islands of Insight

Alongside the more traditional puzzles like the grids and match three puzzles, some puzzles involve perspective. You’ll encounter collections of rings that look like sculptures as you explore, and they’re puzzles where you need to find the angle where you can see through all the rings. Or you’ll see lines on a wall that show a symbol if you look at them from the right direction. It’s a nice way to mix things up from the brain-bending logic puzzles, and there’s sure to be even more variety in the full game.

My favourite type of puzzle to find in Islands of Insight though were the relics. By activating these, you’ll make a bubble appear and be tasked with finding five hidden icons inside it. This means looking in every nook and cranny because those little suckers are well hidden. The variety of puzzles means that you don’t get bored doing the same thing over and over again, and all of them give you valuable points.

In Islands of Insight solving puzzles for points is important because you can exchange those points on your skill tree. The last thing I was expecting from this game was to unlock the ability to double jump and to have a whole host of other movement and other upgrades available, but when so much of your time is spent exploring it makes perfect sense.

A screenshot of Islands of Insight

If you’re going to make a game that expects you to explore every inch of it you’d better make it beautiful, and that’s precisely what the developers of Islands of Insight did. These luscious environments are a sight to behold, and in my short time with the game, I found myself wandering around various fields, ruins and forests looking for puzzles and loving every minute.

I’ve been waiting so long for a puzzle game to capture my heart the way that The Witness did, and I think that Islands of Insight could be the one to do it. The idea of a puzzle game full of other random players might seem a bit odd at first, but once you start playing it makes perfect sense. I’ll be eagerly waiting for the full game to drop next year, and if you’re a fan of a good puzzle then you should be too.