Deeper than Portal Philosophical musings don’t come more beautiful than this
The Talos Principle is a beautiful and thoughtful puzzle game with the kind of philosophical musings that will either leave you deep in thought, stroking that gaming beard with an existential bent or just shrugging your shoulders before moving on to the next puzzle. The way The Talos Principle allows you to take or leave it’s deeper narrative is commendable, but to enjoy this to its fullest potential you’ll want to do a lot of thinking about life, the universe and, er, electric jammers.
The Talos Principle
Deeper than Portal Philosophical musings don’t come more beautiful than this.
The basic gameplay premise of The Talos Principle consists of finding a way to a coloured Tetris-like Sigil at the end of a puzzle room. To get there you’ll need to overcome electric barriers, explosive drones and turrets by using various tools like jamming devices which can deactivate these obstacles. In the beginning the puzzles are basic, nicely short and quick to solve but soon develop into much more complex and across a bigger are, to the point of not looking or feeling like a puzzle room.
Soon you’ll be using blocks to weigh down pressure pads or connecting lasers beams to get to the coloured Sigil. The difficulty then progresses higher and puzzles require a combination of tools to unlock your prize - it’s manner of teaching you new tricks and then setting challenges for you to overcome is just as slick as Portal, but within an environment that carries with it a sense of something far more.
So that is The Talos Principle’s nuts and bolts of gameplay. It’s fantastic and challenges you in all the right ways - but what of this other half? The point of it all?
It’s here for me that the Talos Principle exceeds where most, if not all, other puzzle games fail with its’ grasp of philosophy, the meaning of consciousness, existence and what it means to be human. I’m the type of guy who needs a game like this to pull the strings of its systems or puzzles into an interesting or coherent form - and luckily that’s exactly what it does in the most thoughtful way possible.
Looks gorgeous, but is real? Ooooooh deep!
From the moment you enter the game the booming voice of Elohim greets you, declaring that he is the creator and is offering you everlasting life - you know, the usual stuff omnipotent beings offer when they’ve got something to hide or a hidden agenda. What’s interesting about this is that you’re not alive. You’re a robot and your origin and existence is unclear. Were you created by this Elohim? Is it trying to recreate humanity within the form of a machine? Is Elohim a god or an A.I.?
All these questions and more are ones you’ll discover as you work through the puzzle rooms and claim your Sigils. These blocks unlock more puzzles and tools to use in later rooms. They also, eventually, lead you to the Tower - an almighty tall structure that Elohim has forbidden you to into. So of course that’s your aim and the more Sigils you acquire mean the more levels you can unlock in this tower with the ultimate aim being the very top.
Throughout the levels are computer terminals and it’s here that the philosophical tenets of the game come to the fore. There are emails and text documents to read that uncover the nature and origin of the project you’re currently working through. Perhaps the best part of this side of the game is the Milton Library Assistant which begins as a benign program, restricting access to the libraries archives until you can verify your humanity through a series of questions. It’s the antithesis of Elohim and kind of acts as an alternative way to interpret the narrative as its role grows.
The text dialogue you can have with the Assistant can become just as puzzling as the physical rooms you work through and it’s here that the real philosophical discussion starts taking place. IT won’t be to everyone’s taste as this narrative, if you want to call it that, is purely text and can be a bit much at times. That said, I found it stimulating when in the right mood and as these conversations are optional you can always return to a terminal when you feel like continuing with it. Towards the end it can offer an alternate ending, one of three, if you follow it’s instructions, usually to the antagonism of Elohim.
Turrets, electric barriers and explosive drones.
There are also audio diaries scattered around from a woman whose importance is slowly revealed. Though these diaries are a little rote and overused in video games generally, it’s a pleasing change to just get one narrative rather than a whole cast with smaller snippets of others experiences conveyed through QR codes that you can translate on the fly. These offer little messages that feel a little like a tongue-in-cheek nod to Dark Soul’s messages.
If you feel like adding another level of difficulty to the puzzles then some levels have stars you can try to unlock. These sometimes require solutions that use equipment from other puzzle rooms to unlock. Others are just hidden from view though the solution may be simple. It’s a pretty good mix. Gaining these stars isn’t just for bragging rights either as collecting them all will unlock a third ending in the tower.
THE TALOS PRINCIPLE VERDICT
If none of that sounds like your cup of Earl Grey and you just love 3D puzzle games then The Talos Principle will be worth the price of entry as you can ignore most of the musings on offer here. But I feel you’d be missing out on what makes The Talos Principle so interesting. It’s an experience that truly stretched different parts of my mind in more satisfying way than Portal. Though the puzzles frustrate at times, most are put together thoughtfully and in a simple enough way that you can go away and figure it out on paper if you need to (I needed to, frequently).
TOP GAME MOMENT
Having a mind-blowing conversation with a computer program.
Impressive puzzle game with deep philosophical musings
Gorgeous visuals and design
Some puzzles are too frustrating and devious
The philosophy side may not be to everyone's taste