Croteam, known for the Serious Sam series, wouldn’t be the first place you’d look for a heavily metaphysical puzzle game, but that’s just what they’ve delivered in The Talos Principle. The title blends ancient and futuristic imagery tied together by the inquiries on intelligence that have been asked throughout the centuries. But it also blends together gameplay and aesthetics in an equally spectacular way.
Aesthetics (Story, Graphics, Sound)
“What am I? What makes me me? Am I a machine or a human being?” These questions are the fundamental queries of metaphysics and artificial intelligence and form the heart of The Talos Principle’s main campaign. Pulling in various philosophical sources, from Alan Turing to the ancient Greek philosophers, the game puts the player into the role of a potentially newborn android who is instructed to complete various tasks to reach enlightenment. However, the lush, majestic worlds the character must traverse are not as the narrator claims them to be; something is amiss. Told mostly through journal entries and occasional player controlled inquires, the narrative of The Talos Principle is deeply intellectual without appearing pretentious or preposterous. Emphasis on thought and the analysis of consciousness, all wrapped up in a science fiction mystery, kept me enticed throughout the game; it drove me to uncover the truth of my (character’s) existence and understand the world around me. If you’re fan of science fiction/fantasy (say Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep by Philip K. Dick), then the story of The Talos Principle may seem extremely familiar, but the way it’s told in-game is superb, appealing to the basic human desire to uncover and understand the unknown.
Running on the Serious engine, The Talos Principle’s graphics aren’t intricate or phenomenal but they’re not a hindrance either. I wasn’t distracted by the rough textures, the static skybox or the identical environment objects as the game doesn’t put too much emphasis on for the overall story or gameplay to succeed. However, that’s on a broad scale. Where Croteam manages to excel with The Talos Principle’s aesthetics is in the minute details, the little touches here and there that solidify the world’s credibility. Dynamic visual glitches, in the form of static, that occur in the peripherals of the screen as well as the various, mechanical and electronic sound effects really enhance the mystery of the character’s surroundings. For example, using the computer terminals strewn throughout the game was unexpectedly satisfying. The syncing of the player character’s typing movements to the sounds of a mechanical keyboard and the letters scrolling onto the screen is such a small detail, but it brought about an odd sense of delight and realism. It is in these minutiae that the game really shines.
Gameplay (Combat, Systems, Mechanics)
The Talos Principle is a first-person puzzle game which adds more and more tools, such as lasers, as the player progresses through each hub world — these eventually include line-of-sight, verticality, and spatial mechanics to the mix. But what makes The Talos Principle’s gameplay special is that it manages to escape a primary fault inherent to many narrative driven video games: its gameplay content is not just filler meant to supplement the story, but instead it stands apart with its brilliant, complex design. Every puzzle room encountered utilizes its objects and environments in innovative and unexpected ways. In certain puzzles, the player’s perspective will be a key component of puzzle, while at other times its more a question of trigger sequencing and/or manipulating NPC pathing. It’s a refreshing level of complexity and variety that I haven’t seen since Portal or Quantum Conundrum.
Additionally, The Talos Principle boasts another mark of great design in the progression of its difficulty. The beginning of the game lulls the player into this false complacency as the puzzles seem fairly easy. This introductory benchmark, however, doesn’t just skip from mindless to hair-pulling insanity, but instead gradually increases its level of challenge. Most puzzle games have trouble in creating this upward slope, but it’s handled well in The Talos Principle. The game moved with me as it introduced new mechanics, made sure I understood the limitations of each one and then applied them unexpected ways, like a collegiate math class.
Rarely does a game challenge the player on an intellectual level as well as a mechanical level; most that try usually end in unsatisfying confusion or skepticism. But The Talos Principle uses the vehicle of metaphysics to deliver not only a great narrative experience, but a similarly remarkable gameplay experience. I’d recommend this game to anyone who either loves puzzle games, great narrative driven games, and/or those who enjoy a fantastic science fiction story. For its current price of $39.99 (on sale right now on Steam for $35.99), however, I would say that the price is a bit much for what the game offers. It’s definitely worth a playthrough, but perhaps not so close to the cost of most big budget retail games.
Final Score: 9 / 10
Written and Edited by Tim Atwood