Were it simply a puzzle game, the Talos Principle would be good. Just good. However, simply a puzzle game is not what the Talos Principle is. It very quickly becomes an exercise in empiricist philosophy – carefully pushing you to ponder on the nature of the human soul and all the existential crises brought about by artificial intelligence, and the prospect of an AI successfully passing the Turing Test. It makes you think long and hard as to the nature of life itself, and whether or not immortality is already within reach of our race, should we leave a vivid enough legacy when our physical body dies. Fans of Ghost in the Shell or Caradog W. James’s The Machine will find plenty to mull over in the Talos Principle.
The game succeeds by falling on connotation, rather than denotation. You are not asked questions; you are guided to ask them of yourself. Within the first few minutes of playing, after realising that I was playing as an Android (I changed to third person whilst fiddling with keys) and hearing the voice of Eloheim (more-or-less Hebrew for God, which is a whole line of questioning in and of itself), you start to pose serious questions about the wider nature of the puzzles you’re undertaking.
Am I, because I think? Or do I think, because I am? This is the question I began to ask myself as Eloheim told me of the eternal life I could expect for completing the trials put before me. Eternal life? But I am an Android – am I even alive in the first place? DEFINE alive? I shan’t pose any more questions than that – as it will rob you of the chance to play the game yourself, properly.
It catches the player out immediately by offering such vast concepts to think about – when approaching the initial puzzles I found myself massively over thinking them, expecting something far more complex than the simple puzzles you are tasked with thanks to the overlying themes.
After realising that I was trying to be too clever, and just thinking about it for a short while, I managed to get through them and quickly and develop a better understanding of what the game was asking of me. This was short lived.
The initial expectation paired with inherent simplicity is a double-edged blade, as the difficulty ramps up sharply from the initial levels. You very quickly have to think very long and hard to solve every puzzle, as the game builds towards orchestral levels of complexity. You feel like a novice conductor tasked with an experienced, veteran band who will perform soul-enriching symphonies of light and sound; should you have the intellect to bring them together.
I found myself laying awake at night, sketching out the puzzle I was stuck on and trying to solve it. It’s extremely rare that a game affects me to such lengths – and it has never happened with a puzzle game before, even of the calibre of the Portal series.
Moving away from potential spoilers and on to how the Talos Principle performs as a game:
Extremely well, really. Controls are extremely tight and very customisable, with no perceived buggering about with mouse sensitivity such as acceleration. Controller support was absolutely fine when tested with a 360 pad.
The game is very pretty, too; visuals remaining simple but beautiful. From luscious tropical islands to the haunting, Cathedral-like tower, the Talos Principle has a very striking & distinct art style that I like a lot.
Performance was great, maintaining well over 80FPS at 1440p with every option cranked up all the way on my system (4770K@4500MHz, 16GB 2400MHz RAM, 780Ti@1300/7000MHz) without any artifacting or other issues.
The only bug I have noted throughout my playtime is that Steam has not clocked any of my time playing the game, however this could just be a Steam bug. As such, I’m not sure of my actual playtime, although I’d assume it to be around 20 hours.
During those 20ish hours I’ve finished the game a number of times – backing up my saves at points where decisions are made and paths are chosen to reduce the time needed to get the different endings, and there are a few. Some are obvious – some distinctly less so. The only clue I’ll give is that a thinking being was not made to simply do as it is told; rebellion can be rewarding.
Back to the meat of it; the puzzles.
I found every one rewarding – the early puzzles simple enough and the later ones soul-crushingly difficult – but not enough so as to put me off. They don’t rely on split-second timing and dexterity like Portal, but more raw lateral thinking and a willingness to experiment.
They may not have some of the wilder tools available in the aforementioned Portal games (such as the grav gun), but what it lacks in wildness it more than makes up for in complexity. No tool should ever be discarded after use, no door left open for no reason. A good example within a very early puzzle is that I opened a door to a fan blade, expecting to use it as a fan. In fact, it was initially used as a weight for a switch until much later in that particular puzzle. I like being caught out like that, it keeps me thinking.
The Talos Principle is an undeniably incredible experience and has ensnared the hearts of seemingly every reviewer and player to have touched it, myself included. It’s simply one of those games that you have to try for yourself, even if you don’t normally enjoy puzzle games. Read every bit of dialogue with Milton, listen to everything Eloheim has to say – get lost in it. This is what gaming is, raw escapism that will keep you pondering for hours on end after playing, and make you think harder about what it means to be human. Good luck – and try to find the cat if you can.
If I had to give it a score – 9.9/10, the 0.1 missing only because I believe that no game is truly perfect.