Title: The Talos Principle: Road to Gehenna
Platforms: PlayStation 4, PC (reviewed on PS4)
Publisher: Devolver Digital
Release Date: Out Now
Price: PS4, £35, as it comes bundled with the first game. On Steam, it’s £11 for the DLC alone, but you’ll need the base game to play it.
Tagline: Robots, existentialism, and philosophical Greek mythology metaphors.
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Verdict: Why haven’t you bought it yet?
The Talos Principle, as you may all know, holds a very special place in my heart for “games that are smart.” It’s got a lot of thought, love, and detail put into a complex narrative, and it was a treasure to play through the first time round. Admittedly, I had been putting off the DLC for a while, mostly because puzzles are awful and I can’t do them. However, I was very pleasantly surprised by the Road to Gehenna, and I consider it a worthy expansion to a fantastic first entry.
Please be warned that the following review will discuss spoilers for the ending of the first game, as well as the events and the ending of the Road to Gehenna.
The story is as simple as ever. Tal has ascended, gone out into the real world to try and restart humanity. Elohim is alone, the process is complete, and the simulation is dying. Yet this once mighty god has regrets, things he wishes to set right before the world crumbles into nothing but memories and data. And so he turns to Uriel with one last request: “Save them.”
It’s an entirely different take on the world, and it’s a good one. It’s not, as some DLCs would have opted for, just adding a bunch more puzzles for maybe an extra cutscene or two. The Road to Gehenna has given us a brand new scenario, and actually made it work within the canon, which is a nice touch. Plus, it appears to have fixed a lot of the issues from the base game.
There doesn’t feel like a lot to comment on, because not a lot has changed, but hey, if it ain’t broke and all that. The graphics and sound are just as beautiful as before, and even through its minimal voice acting, the Road to Gehenna still gives us that fantastically immersive story the base game did. Thankfully, this game is a lot shorter than its predecessor, and yes, this is a good thing. One of my main issues with the first game was the sheer amount of puzzles you had to solve, and combined with the scenario for the DLC, this one felt just right. There are only four main areas this time, each with four, maybe five puzzles to solve, and androids to free. This is great; not only does it stop the puzzles getting tedious, it sets the pacing perfectly, drip feeding the plot through so it keeps you focused and interested.
The one thing I didn’t particularly like, was again, the difficulty level. I used a walkthrough for the entire game, because I knew I wouldn’t be able to solve the problems, and all I can say is God bless Youtubers. I was expectng the first handful to be easy, to ease you into the game and let you get your bearings, but nope, this just chucks you straight in the deep end, waves cheerfully, and runs off. You’ve got all your tools straight off the bat, but even puzzles with just one of them are exceedingly difficult. I suppose, for a game in this genre, it’s a good idea to present your players with an extra challenge, but it left me flailing a little bit.
Another nice touch was that the plot was presented in an entirely different way – before, you were hanging on to Elohim’s every word, trying to glean clues from the voice in the sky, and harassing the Milton Library Assistant for answers. The terminals and audio diaries were extras, left in there to enhance your experience, and were, if you were so inclined, entirely missable. Gehenna, on the other hand, revolves around these terminals, mostly because of the way the place works. It was already apparent that this game relied heavily on themes discussed within Christian mythology, and Gehenna is an interesting paradox.
Gehenna is essentially a prison, a place to lock away all of the dissenters who spoke out against Elohim’s regime. Some climbed the tower, some interfered, but now they’re all in a separate part of the simulation, behind bars, with nothing but terminals to keep them occupied. It’s essentially a stunning prison, with paradise just out of reach. But, here’s the thing; those androids, doomed to a life of isolation because they chose to think, have created beauty in Gehenna. They all communicate through the Gehenna message boards, set up by the mysterious Admin, and use it as a sort of family. They chat, they create, they write. Each android has their own name, their own personalities, and they all have their own piece of art they enjoy posting on the forums. One does text based adventure games, another does a personality quiz. One writes science fiction soap operas, and another guy writes historical non fiction, reflections on a past they don’t understand, because they aren’t human, and it’s beautiful to see. They’re living in bliss in their manufactured paradise, and along comes Uriel to pull it all down, which brings the plot back round to its central theme; free will.
As warned, the plot and ending spoilers start here.
The whole idea is freeing the androids from the collapse of the simulation; if they aren’t uploaded to the gold disc, they’ll be deleted forever, and never have a chance to rebuild the world, like Tal did. And let’s face it, if they’re well built enough and intelligent enough to be creating and critiquing art, they deserve to be free. But, like when you argue with people, there’s a problem. Some think Uriel’s a liar. Some think he’s been sent by Elohim to further punish them. And others really wouldn’t mind getting out of here. It’s an interesting dilemma, because some of them are genuinely happy there. They want to exist in this little paradise, and you’re wrecking it – although, as always with this place, things are not as they seem. The “voting,” system to show off artwork and keep everyone content is rigged, some of the voices on the message board are plants to keep Gehenna in line. And Uriel has to decide, make them come with him by force, or logic.
As for the ending, it once again boils down to choice. You either rescue Admin forcefully, after he admits he wanted to lie and make Gehenna a happy little paradise, and thus die with it, or you respect his wishes and leave him there, but he does beg you to erase the history records of his wrongdoings. I puzzled long and hard over this one, because surely the whole point was to rescue everyone you could (Uriel aside unfortunately), because otherwise, he’s lost forever. So in the end, I left Admin to his fate, but didn’t alter the records – humanity needed to know the truth, realise that everyone has flaws, and if I can’t save everyone, well, I’m not Elohim. I’m not locking people up because I don’t like what they say, or hauling people along with me because it’s “God’s Will.” It’s his choice, and in the end, that’s what it’s all about.
- A beautifully thought out game with a lot of depth and love put into the narrative
- A definite improvement from some of the base game’s issues
- A more than worthy expansion
- The puzzles are difficult right from the get go.
- In all honesty, I’d say the price. £35 for the PS4 copy, especially when you consider most indie titles are £25 at the most.
- No option to save Uriel at the end. “A terrible sacrifice,” indeed, but still…
It’s rated 7, but this is a game that deals with death and religion as key themes – I think the narrative would go over the head of the average seven year old. It’s disturbing, but not outwardly violent, so I’d say decide for yourselves if children can handle it.
Thank you to the devs and publishers for providing me with a review copy!