Title: The Talos Principle: Deluxe Edition
Platform: PC/PS4 (reviewed on PS4)
Publisher: Devolver Digital
Release date: Windows/OS X/Linux, December 11, 2014, Android, May 20, 2015, PlayStation 4, October 13, 2015.
Family Focus: See below
You wake up in the middle of a ruined town. The sun is shining, the sky is cloudless and blue, and there’s no living thing in sight. Apart from Elohim, urging you to explore his garden, retrieve his sigils, and gain eternal life in Paradise. Welcome to The Talos Principle.
Be warned, there will be spoilers.
On the surface, it just looks like a run of the mill puzzle game, almost in the style of classic plaformers, where the only goal is to collect the designated shiny object because the mysterious voice in the sky told you to. So, after collecting them for a while, you have two options; listen to the voice in the sky, because he clearly knows what he’s doing or go along with the voice in the computer, who insists that Elohim is full of crap, and you should climb the big, scary looking tower that your benevolent god has forbade you from.
Luckily, you have plenty of time to decide on this, as you have roughly 150 puzzles to solve, over the course of about thirty hours. This game offers three worlds, A, B and C, all with seven groups of puzzles that you have to solve to beat the same, then three secret islands, and three star rooms, with some of the most difficult, frustrating puzzles. The one thing I liked the most about them, though, was that all of the puzzles were solvable, given enough time, exploration and logical thought. There was no one part I can point to and claim that it wasn’t possible to do alone, because it genuinely was. It’s not a game that’s trying to outsmart you and make the player feel stupid, it’s one that requires patience and logic, which I appreciated, even if I was truly awful at solving them myself.
The puzzles themselves are fairly simple in set up; you have a handful of tools. A jammer to open gates with, a connector to refract beams of light through, a box, a fan, a recording device, and a plate to carry things on. It’s nicely consistent without being repetitive; your main goal is to open the doors via pressure plates, the jammer, or the connectors, but no two puzzles are the same. There are workarounds, sure, and similar methods, but there’s no identical methods for getting past any one puzzle, which just highlights the sheer amount of work that went into this game. You’d expect at least a few of them to be lazy, copy-pasted solutions, but I can safely say there’s none of that.
It’s incredibly varied, and you need to use the environment to your advantage in order to beat the game. You’ll end up having to balance boxes and connectors in the strangest of places to get the angle or height you need, send the beams of light through windows and round corners, even putting your connector on top of a fan, sending it soaring into the sky. This works well in some areas, and not so well in others. On the one hand, it’s a great way to liven the game up a bit. In others, it feels like the game is breaking its own rules. For example, most of the time, you can’t jump over fences to get to the next area, even if you’ve used one of the boxes to get the extra height. Then, inexplicably, in some puzzles you can, and this kept happening. Sometimes you can walk on walls, sometimes you can’t, sometimes you can make ridiculous jumps, other times you can’t, and often, you’ll end up having to redo the entire puzzle all over again.
This was another thing I found incredibly frustrating about this wonderful game. I know gamers love to wax lyrical about “death having consequences,” but let’s be honest here. Do you really want to spend fifteen minutes setting up a puzzle, then painstakingly taking apart that puzzle, bit by bit, making sure the right pieces stay in place and working out what tools you can remove to get to the ever elusive star sigils, only to mistime a jump and have the entire level reset? Yep, that means you’ve just wasted half an hour. Now go do it again. While I like the reset option itself, I think there should be an option to drop you back at the place you died from, rather than doing the whole thing again. Plus, resetting puts all of the puzzles in one area back to default, so God help you if obtaining that star required multiple steps. Similarly, a handful of puzzles (yes, “Egyptian Arcade,” I MEAN YOU) rely purely on timing rather than skill, but to the game’s credit, there aren’t many of these, which is enough to balance it out.
But enough about me being shit at puzzles. Let’s talk about graphics! Visually, this game is absolutely stunning. The environments are flawlessly designed, and they create such a eerily beautiful atmosphere. Make no mistake; this game is creepy in its own right. It didn’t take me long to notice that the main character (tentatively known as Tal) was the only living thing in this garden. There’s a real sense of foreboding, wandering around these empty ruins, and yet you can’t help but be entranced by the beauty of it all. Even the textures on the walls and the waterfalls are exquisite, with not a single blur in sight. It uses current gen technology to its fullest capability, and it shows.
The story, however, is hands down the best thing about the game. As I mentioned in my little summary, The Talos Principle runs on the “show not tell,” rule. From the minute you take control of Talos, you are immediately greeted with the uneasy notion that something is very, very wrong. Everything is too quiet, too perfect, and the unsettling QR messages left on the walls by this place’s other inhabitants do nothing but reinforce that fact. Both the computers and the messages urge you to think about what you’re doing; should you really be obeying Elohim? Is this place really a paradise, when you’re trapped here until you finally get enough sigils? And most importantly, where the hell is this place, and how did you get here in the first place; where is everyone?
This game is weirdly minimalist for something so aesthetically gorgeous; there are only two voices in the game; that of Elohim, and the heartbreaking time capsule recordings of the lead scientist Alexandra Drennan, who was working on the Soma/Talos project before whatever disaster befell the world. The narrative dances a thin line between telling too little and just enough, and I’m hoping the expansion, Road to Gehenna, expands on it some more. The story itself is told through QR messages that Tal can scan, which are all left by the former inhabitants of the world, Alexandra’s recordings, and computer files left behind. It builds a beautiful sense of unease and foreboding, and it challenges old ingrained beliefs, namely the difference between man and machine, debating the Talos Principle itself; if everything that makes us human can be switched out and replaced, even down to blood, are we truly human any more? What makes us any different to machines, which, in theory, can have the exact same thing done to them, yet aren’t considered human?
This game doesn’t dumb itself down for the sake of player comprehension. It’s deliberately vague and lets you fill in the gaps that are mostly answered by the time you finish, though I will say that the true ending is almost needlessly hard to get, since it requires all the star sigils to have been gathered, then unlocking the bonus stages, in order to get the platinum sigils to open Floor 6 of the tower. I eventually got fed up and went for the ascension ending, because I didn’t want to spend three more hours grabbing sigils, which I wasn’t too pleased about. The pay off for both endings, though, is worth the wait.
If you ascend, you’re reset, Tal’s personality wiped and replaced, as you didn’t become aware enough to question your creators and climb the tower like you were forbade to. It’s almost like a reverse telling of the Garden of Eden story, only this time, the game will let you roll back the clock with the “Restore Backup,” feature and choose another ending.
The tower ending, though, is a masterpiece. You ignore Elohim, climb the tower, solve the insanely long puzzle at the top, and are rewarded for it. The pieces start dropping into place, and I was able to glean enough clues from Alexandra’s recordings, the emails left on the computers, and Milton’s messages to understand what was going on. I won’t go into massive detail here due to spoilers, but the whole idea of creating an AI smart enough to think for itself and make independent decisions is a fascinating one, especially combined with a biblical analogy. This wonderfully philosophical piece asks what truly makes a human being, and as the final shot pans out from Tal and the kitten, into a hauntingly ruined landscape, feels like the perfect ending for the first instalment.
Overall, I cannot recommend this game enough. It’s bittersweet and thought provoking, and for £35 for both this and the Road to Gehenna (which will be done in its own review to truly give it justice), you’d be mad to miss out.
- Visually stunning
- Beautiful soundtrack
- Fantastic storyline.
But on the other hand:
- The true ending feels almost too difficult to get.
- In a weird way, the game is a little too long. The puzzle aspect does grow a little stale after a while, especially if you just want to finish the game and be done with it.
- Frustrating reset mechanic.
I’d say yes, in all honesty, but I wouldn’t recommend it for young children; a lot of the themes and events are fairly dark and the whole game is very open and frank about death, which may upset more sensitive players.
Thank you to the publishers for providing me with a copy to use for this review!