Review by Bobby Blackwolf

Game Review: The Talos Principle

Game Review: The Talos Principle

I should have had this review written two weeks ago. That's when I could have written about it. That's when I SHOULD have written about it. But, I didn't. Why? Because I couldn't honestly believe how good this game was. I thought that it had to go downhill, something was going to change, as I went further into the game. I felt like I HAD to put the time in to finish it, because invariably I would come to the conclusion that it started strong and finished weak, and I didn't want to mislead anybody.

To my surprise, The Talos Principle didn't let me down, even in the end, and it's the best game I've played all year.

At it's core, this is a First Person Puzzler. While Portal is probably the closest comparison, there's enough that sets The Talos Principle apart to make it something fresh. There are puzzles, check. There's an over-arcing story that reveals itself as you go along, check. There's an omnipotent voice talking to you as you solve the puzzles, check. However, where Portal zigged, this game zagged.

The Story

How I felt in the beginning
How I felt in the beginning

Here's what I knew at the start - I was a robot in a computer generated rendition of ancient Rome. There was a computer terminal beeping at me, and I was able to access it and read some of the files. A booming voice who called himself "Elohim" (Hebrew for "God") talked about how I was his child and was to play in his garden, as long as I stayed away from the big tower in the middle. A very straightforward setup (obviously I was to climb the tower) but now I wanted to know why.

The story is the stuff of philisophical science fiction, written by Tom Jubert (FTL, The Swapper) and Jonas Kyratzes (The Sea Will Claim Everything), and is told through computer terminals and audio logs left behind by a scientist. Emails, Wiki pages, blog comments, they're all sprinkled throughout the world and give you a glimpse into your purpose. The text is written in a way that you would expect - since, apparently, everyone on Earth is going to experience the same event, nobody needs to actually spell out what the event is, you just have to glean it from the out of context clips.

Not even these guys could keep me away
Not even these guys could keep me away
I'm not the type of person who enjoys reading walls of text as backstory in games. It's why I never got as much into Morrowind as other people. This was different - there was just enough breadcrumbs to make me WANT to get to the next computer terminal to look at the next set of files, which drove me to continue through the actual game itself.

That's not to say that there's just files to read - there is an entire subplot where you're chatting with someone else at the computer terminals, who issues you a Turing Test (to see if you're human) and questions your faith. While this acts, sometimes, as a conversation tree that you can go through every answer, some of the questions present six answers, and you can only choose one, and that determines where you go next in that subplot. You're asked what it means to be a person, what is the purpose, and why do you want to be. It's heavy stuff for a puzzler, but ultimately works very well.

There's also another subplot told in the form of QR Codes left by previous versions of whatever you are. In a neat twist, you can also leave QR Codes for people on your friends list to find later, if you can find a bucket of paint.

The Game

You. Stay there and don't move.
You. Stay there and don't move.
There's the multiple stories going on, but other than that, there's 15-20 hours (at least) of head-scratching brain-teasing puzzles to complete, all developed by Croteam, the guys behind Serious Sam. The goal is to get Tetrominos, the same four-block pieces you see in Tetris, which are called Sigils. The way to get them start "simple" enough - you are given access to Jammers (limited in each level) which you can use to turn off mechanisms in the level and allow you to safely collect the Sigil. Eventually, as you move from the starter green puzzles to harder yellow and even harder red puzzles, you'll unlock new equipment that ups the complexity pretty quickly.

Not crossing the streams.
Not crossing the streams.
Some levels will have you using connectors to send beams of light from a source to a target - but be sure not to cross the streams. You'll get a box that allows you to jump to higher places (or to help not cross the streams.) You'll get a fan that will either hover things in mid air or send objects over walls. You'll get a device to allow you to record yourself doing something, and then you work with your previous self to get places, much like the recent indie FPS Time Rifters. You'll get a platform that you can jump on, but only if your other you takes you somewhere.

You'll have to use all of these in creative ways to get the Sigils. You'll quickly learn techniques that you will need to use to get your tools with you to later areas, and in the end you'll have to use everything you've learned under the stress of a time limit. Once you have enough Sigils to unlock a door, you go and arrange them to fill an entire grid, which is a whole minigame itself. (They called it Sigils of Elohim.)

The Difficulty

This was an easy one.
This was an easy one.
All of the puzzles are solvable with the equipment provided. For me, the most difficult puzzles were the ones that involved "enemies" - balls and turrets of death that kill you if you get too close. These puzzles required some quick reflexes to get some of the equipment, and invoked more frustration. Luckily, even as you progress to the final stages, the stages with enemies aren't as numerous as expected.

The only downside is that if you get stuck on a puzzle, there's little to no recourse other than going to the Internet to get a hint. There is a hint system in the game, however it doesn't unlock until you're a third of the way through AND you solve a series of Sigil puzzles, and there's only three of them available. In a red puzzle (the hardest kind) you can "ask for guidance" and, if you have a Messenger available, a cryptic answer in the form of a QR Code will show up - and may or may not actually help you.

Good Luck.
Good Luck.
The reason I didn't have this review up sooner is because I was stuck (one puzzle I spent an hour on) and since the game wasn't out yet, I couldn't go to the Internet for advice. Now that it has been out, you can find solutions online - but really, you should try to figure it out before going down that path.

For the hardcore puzzle fans out there, there are also stars in the levels, which require you to think outside of the box - literally. One Star puzzle early on required you to use tools outside of the game (and even your computer) to solve it. Others require you to actually use connectors from other levels that you have already solved. These easily add many more hours to the game, and are required to unlock the third ending.

The Verdict

I made it through two of the three endings after roughly 23 hours of play. The puzzles and story were both engaging, and I eventually even got an idea of what the hell was going on. While a lack of an internal hint mechanism was frustrating in the beginning, I decided that I just needed to suck it up and figure it out. (Plus, there was even an achievement for figuring out the solution after Elohim helpfully tells you that maybe you should move on and come back to it later. There's also one for leaving when he suggests it.)

While I haven't played everything that came out in 2014, this release by Devolver Digital is definitely the best game I've played all year. If you like games where there is no manual or explanation (like Myst) and you are ready for a philosophical adventure questioning life, then The Talos Principle is for you. You're never clueless as to where to go next, only how to get there.

And yes, there is a cat...If you're able to look at it.

Version Reviewed: PC
Acquisition Method: Promo code provided by publisher

Our Grade:
The Good:
  • Engaging backstory that raises philosophical questions you didn't realize you had.
  • Puzzles that are difficult but very satisfying when the "A-ha!" moment comes.
  • You're never clueless about where to go next, even if there's no explanation as to why.
    The Bad:
    • No real in-game hint system, but suck it up, Buttercup.
    • You haven't played it yet.

    Bobby Blackwolf is the host of The Bobby Blackwolf Show on the VOG Network, lead developer of the website, and lead GM for VOG: The Game. Follow him on Twitter at @BobbyBlackwolf

    Review by - 12/20/2014 4:52 PM853 views

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