As the title implies, The Talos Principle is a game for thinkers. (No it’s not related in any way to the Skyrim character.) Hardly a moment passes when you aren’t encouraged to push the boundaries of your intelligence with some extremely difficult but gratifying puzzles, or to reflect on human characteristics and the mysteries of empiricist philosophy. I find the more time I spend away from the game, the more often I am thinking about it. Surprisingly, it’s the elements that aren’t puzzles that have stuck with me most. This detachment makes me sad. Although Croteam, the developer, handles both aspects well, they don’t balance out as nicely as they could.
The game is a fun puzzler, I’d even call it marvelous. It doesn’t bring any clever, new tricks to the table, like the portal gun in Portal for example, but it completely nails the use of traditional elements, such as laser connections, blocks, motion-recording devices, turrets, and signal jammers, to solve each puzzle. The game eases you in to the harder parts (maybe too slowly, since it’s a little too easy in the beginning), but as it continues on it achieves a fever pitch. If you’re up for an extra challenge, complete the puzzles that give stars in reward.
With a first-person viewpoint, the puzzles in The Talos Principle are different from Portal’s because they emphasize purposeful thinking, instead of speed and action. In a single puzzle I disabled a force field by placing a block on the trigger, then used a jammer in order to take fan out of action that was blowing me down a certain corridor. Stripping the head from the fan, I then triggered a different pair of doors by using a laser connector to shoot three beams. After that I used the jammer to doubly disable an open force field, then sat a new cube atop a spring in front of a different fan, which blew the cube over a wall and into the next room which had another trigger. Then I rearranged my connectors and jammers to clear a path to the cube, placed it on the trigger panel, and finally completed my coal to claim the tetromino.
Phew! Such a moment feels like achieving the Triforce in Zelda, and that was only one of the approximately 120 puzzles. The feeling happens frequently, and Talos Principle sustains that vital “Aha!” aspect for hours, in part because it has such a variety of gadgets to play with and mix together in ways that are interesting, despite some repetition near the end.
What is The Talos Principle about?
The voice narrating overhead is Elohim (which means “god” in Hebrew), and essentially, he’s just there to promise that you’ll have life everlasting if you can complete all the puzzles, generate a feeling of mystery surrounding a large tower in the center, and hint that everything in the world that’s around you is a fraud. Pushing “H” for third-person viewpoint also exposes a revelation of who your character is.
That’s where philosophy enters. Alongside the focus on the puzzles is a quest to determine who and also what you actually are and whether or not you’re a “person,” which you explore by using small terminals dotting the subzones, which beep and make noises that seem to beg for some interaction. Both audio logs as well as e-mails give you insight into the creators of this world, and contain a variety of information from lyrics for an inane song to musings on a significant archeological site/garbage dump. Through quotes from authors like William Blake and John Milton, among others, the game explores ideas about humanity. The mystery is increased when you can occasionally participate in surveys that test your humanity, that are seemingly administered by an actual human being.
The Talos Principle and philosophy
The Talos Principle invites us to ask of ourselves philosophical questions that date to the age of Socrates, but on the other hand, they aren’t that difficult to understand. (Some information may also be fictional, created just for the story.) Something I didn’t enjoy was the fact that the terminal didn’t have an option to enter my own response. Instead I was forced to choose between predetermined responses.
The Stanley Parable had similar themes, though done more humorously and at times, more effectively. Here, there aren’t many chances to laugh. However, the Talos Principle has its own kind of appeal, primarily with messages sent from robots in the form of easy to read QR codes that yammer on about the glory of Elohim or a puzzle that is difficult. (Players should be allowed to leave messages of our own in this way, sort of in the style of Dark Souls, after launch.)
The Talos Principle is a worthwhile place to get lost in. The robust focus on philosophy isn’t incorporated in the puzzles as much as is originally implied, but for those who prefer action to contemplation or heavy reading, the puzzles will serve just as nicely. Similar to Portal, you’ll feel clever just playing The Talos Principle, as the majority of the puzzles manage to find the sweet spot in between overly easy and nearly impossible.