Publisher: Devolver Digital
Format: PC, PS4 (Reviewed)
Released: December 11, 2014
Copy provided by GameFly
The Talos Principle may very well be one of the finest puzzle games ever made.
It’s extremely challenging, wickedly creative, and ties everything together with some truly interesting philosophy. I’m not typically a fan of puzzle games (they always frustrate me), but The Talos Principle gripped me in a way I haven’t felt since the first time I played Portal back in 2007.
The Talos Principle is actually a little hard to explain. At its core, it’s a puzzle game. Utilizing an assortment of tools and gadgets, you must solve increasingly more difficult puzzles and collect the colored “tetronimo” piece waiting at the end of each course. Discovering the correct alignment of different colored lasers, and using electronic jammers to open and close energy fields are just a few of the ways to solve these challenges. However, calling The Talos Principle “just a puzzler” would be a grievous mistake. It’s also profoundly (if occasionally confusingly) philosophical, making this a video game that’s ripe with originality.
You play as a humanoid robot who wakes up inside of a broken down and empty world. There’s nobody else in sight, the buildings around you are in ruins, and there’s a deep voice emanating from the skies above. This voice is a deity named Elohim (a Hebrew word for God) and he has a special mission for you to undertake. He claims to have created the world around you, which is strange enough, but when he asks you to explore and solve its intricate challenges, things get very, very interesting.
There’s three large buildings to discover, each housing seven teleporters. These teleporters transport you to the different lands that contain the puzzles. Each land has a different assortment of puzzles to attempt, which is fun enough as it is, but one of the things that I enjoyed was that (for the most part) you’re free to do them in any order you see fit. I usually get frustrated and stuck in these types of games, which is why I loved that if I was having a hard time with any given puzzle I could simply leave and do another one, coming back when I felt more confident in my ability.
The game also does a tremendous job of easing you into the mechanics before upping the difficulty. While some puzzles may seem infuriating at first, the method to clearing it is usually highly logical. Some puzzles even have multiple ways to clear them, which makes experimentation a valuable method. As you unlock more tools to aid you, it just adds to the amount of possibilities in each level. Like most puzzle games, there’s an immense sense of satisfaction after solving an especially difficult puzzle. However, it’s not just the great puzzles in the game that demand solving.
As you progress further in the game, it becomes apparent that things aren’t what they seem. Weird glitches appear in the world, making it appear like you’re in a program, and strange messages appear on the walls around you. Are there other people waiting to be found in this world, or are you just the next one in line to attempt Elohim’s trials? Adding to these complexities, you can interact with several computer stations, which house the third main character, Milton.
In my opinion, your interactions with Milton are the star moments of the game. Milton is not fond of Elohim, is convinced he’s a liar and manipulating you for his own gains, and tries to open your eyes to the reality of the world around you. Your encounters with Milton get progressively more complex, making you choose dialogue options to oppose and debate his philosophy. The Talos Principle uses Milton to ask the player questions about life, humanity, the soul, and the absolute fundamentals of existence. You never truly know if you should believe in Elohim, Milton, or anything at all, and depending on how you back up your beliefs in debate, you can finish the game in multiple ways.
There’s also audio diaries and computer entries that offer even further philosophical viewpoints. While some will surely find the game pretentious (or in my case, occasionally over their head), there’s no denying that this is an original and fascinating way to approach video games.
These debates and data entries also help to balance the pacing, ensuring that the game doesn’t constantly beat you over the head with puzzles. Also, although I won’t go in detail, the game does some really neat things with combining the philosophy with the actual gameplay itself.
And while it’s not something I normally touch on, something needs to be said about the soundtrack. The Talos Principle has one of the most beautiful and haunting scores I’ve ever heard. Accompanied by genuinely beautiful visuals, the score really sets the mood for the abandoned lands your journey takes you through. There’s nothing quite like discovering an outlook over a massive ocean, watching the pinkish-red sunset, and hearing a simple tune morph into a full-blown orchestral masterpiece.
The Talos Principle is a breath of fresh air for video games.
It boasts some of the most challenging and creative puzzles I’ve ever encountered, and includes a completely riveting philosophical stance. If you’re open to trying something different, I can’t recommend this game enough. While some of the philosophical discussions can easily be viewed as pretentious, it provides an interesting way to approach a video game that’s unlike anything else I’ve ever seen. If you’re a fan of something akin to Portal, this is without a doubt the next puzzle game you should check out.
– Zack Burrows