The Talos Principle – What the duck is it?
(Listen to this review in audio) | It’s a philosophy puzzle game from Crowteam. The Talos Principle marks a significant change of direction, and a stark departure from the studios previous bullet spraying, first person shooter series – Serious Sam.
Croteam had been talking about adding puzzle sections into Serious Sam to break up the unrelenting waves of mutilation. In doing so they happened upon the formula for an entirely new project: The Talos Principle.
The what? In Greek mythology Talos was a giant bronze automaton (robot) made to protect Europa from invading pirates. The philosophical principal talks about the inescapable materiality of life. That like the bronze giant Talos, even the most faithful philosopher cannot live without his blood. This should give you hints at what’s to come. This game goes deep – I’m talking bottom of the pond kinda deep, but we’ll come to that.
The Talos Principle is made up of layers of puzzles, around 120 to be precise. Upon entering each puzzle you become a rat in a maze (don’t worry, not literally) . You need to get to the end of the maze to get your cheese, your cheese reward is a ‘sigel’. A Tetris shaped block floating in mid-air, often tantalisingly close but just out of reach. To get there you will employ a range of tools at your disposal. These include fans, reflectors, keys, switches, pressure plates, jammers (that look like old school video cameras) and of course, what puzzle would be complete without lasers? Collect a few of these sigels and you can then arrange them in mini-puzzles to unlock new areas and obtain new equipment.
Names given to each puzzle often offer a clue to it’s solution. But don’t be under any false illusions here these are no gimme’s. Difficulty scales from ‘Oh I see’ all the way to ‘What the duck! That’s not even possible!’ The puzzles on offer will give you a real cerebral workout, and push you to keep thinking. Many being frustratingly difficult to solve at first, but that gives way to a genuine sense of achievement and elation, when (or if) you finally get your light-bulb moment. When you do get stuck (which trust us, you will) persevere, keep thinking, keep trying and do not use a walk-through, unless absolutely necessary! Solving it unaided will reward you with the smug triumph of being able to wallow in your own genius… at least until the next one.The Talos Principle displays real intelligence... be it artificial intelligence or otherwise Click To Tweet
Elephant in the room
Comparisons with the brilliant Portal 2 (the gold standard for puzzle games) are difficult to avoid, many of the puzzles and even equipment share similar DNA. Each puzzle has it’s own discreet area, similar to Portal 2’s test chambers but with an open air feel. While The Talos Principle doesn’t have the laugh out loud humour of Portal 2. It certainly has as much going on between the ears, if not more. It manages to pull off the same trick Portal 2 does, by somehow making you feel smarter just by playing it.
On the surface The Talos Principle can be taken and played as a straight forward puzzle game and a very accomplished one at that, but we haven’t got to grips with the biggest puzzle of all yet…
What the duck is going on?
How far down the rabbit hole do you want to go? From the start you’ll notice that this is no plain puzzler there is more going on under the surface, much more. The first words you’ll hear in a deep, booming voice out of the ether are: “Behold child, you are risen from the dust and you walk in my garden. Hear now my voice, and know that I am your maker, and I am called Elohim. Seek me in my temple if you are worthy.” This voice carries real weight and gravitas so as to conjure up an image of him perhaps speaking to you from atop Mount Olympus.
But this is no Greek god, Elohim happens to be Hebrew for god. References to a forbidden tower that you absolutely must not visit, are thinly veiled references to Biblical stories. Remember those sigels from earlier – the Tetris shaped blocks, Elohim tells us that we can obtain eternal life with them, each ‘bringing us closer to eternity’. But fear not, this isn’t just a re-imagining of Biblical stories or morality, something else is going on.
View your characters hands or switch to 3rd person view and the plot thickens. You aren’t human. You are infact a robot, a very humanesque one with a head, 2 arms, and two legs, but unmistakably a robot. (Come on don’t act surprised, you’ve seen the game cover art!)
So am I just a test subject? (like our old friend the Portal series) Am I mindlessly following god’s orders? Do I have free will to follow my own destiny, or am I programmed on a preordained path? Where is everyone else? I’m the last person alive? Am I a person? Am I alive!? OK! just take it easy there… slow down.How far down the rabbit hole do you want to go? The Talos Principle is no plain puzzler... Click To Tweet
Pieces falling into place
Sorry we were getting in abit of a flap there, but these are all questions which the Talos Principle poses to you directly or indirectly. Some of which you might get definitive answers to and some you might have to ponder on yourself to find your own answers. When we say it poses some of these philosophical questions to you directly, we do mean directly. Apart from hearing the voice of Elohim the only other interaction you have is with computer terminals. (that look eerily like desktop PC’s from the mid 1990’s) computers are located in each of the puzzle areas, and are almost all entirely optional to interact with. But we thoroughly recommend you fall all, the way down the rabbit hole, make sure to seek them all out.
These computers are where things start getting really intriguing, they greet you with a blinking, all watching eye made up of code. Upon using them, you open and read files that start adding flesh to the bones of what’s going on. It starts talking about artificial intelligence, free will, what it means to be alive and other philosophical ideas and principles. After a while, it will become apparent that this system, may very well be sentient. It engages you in conversations and asks you to select answers to it’s philosophical quandaries. These seem to scale in complexity at a similar same rate, as the puzzles themselves. I’m pretty sure I lost a few arguments to it along the way, but not to worry, after all it’s only a machine. Right?
Sight for sore eyes
There are 4 main areas…Roman: think columns and headless statues. Ancient Egyptian: think pyramids and deserts. Medieval: think wooden castles and drawbridges. Plus the tower, remember the one you definitely should’t go to. Each area is fairly small and doesn’t offer much room for exploration outside of the puzzles. Each area is stunningly recreated and offers ample opportunity to ogle the scenery. The developers went to the trouble of scanning real objects and settings, before adding them into the game, and this hard work shows. From the Roman amphitheatre, to the Egyptian sphinx, the realism of the locations really add weight and mystery to the themes of the game. You can easily picture Aristotle, Socrates or the like, standing around philosophizing in many of the locations.
The monastical sweeping score, adds to the overall atmosphere that something divine or profound, is happening. Throughout you will find QR codes pasted onto walls, as if left by some very forward thinking graffiti artists. They do somewhat jar within the ancient scenes, but interact with them and they do help deepen the mystery. Audio recordings, hidden areas and multiple endings offer plenty of other secrets to discover too.Solving difficult puzzles let's you wallow in your own genius... at least until the next one Click To Tweet
Does it make a splash?
Moving between different areas you step into a teleporter made of swirling 1’s and 0’s. This seems to represent what we suspect people’s opinion of The Talos Principle will be: binary. People will either love it or hate it. Place us firmly in the love pond, and news from Crowteam that they are working on a sequel has us in a flutter of excitement.
The Talos Principle is a good world to get lost in, and will stretch you. Be it with fiendishly difficult and rewarding puzzles, or with deeper matters of existence. It will leave you thinking about it even after you have completed the game. Hardcore fans will argue over it’s themes and messages, for a long time to come. (Feel free to start the
argument debate in the comments below) For a game without human contact, it shows remarkable warmth, charm and real intelligence… albeit artificial intelligence.
Platforms: PS4 (version tested), Windows, Linux, Mac & Android.
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