The Talos Principle describes itself as a philosophical first-person puzzle game and despite the heavy, determined narrative direction, the game never allows its ambitions in this area to outshine or negatively impact the most important facet –gameplay. The thematic explorations of The Talos Principle are certainly interesting and thought-provoking but it is ultimately immaculate mechanics and design that make this such a special experience.
From the creators of the Serious Sam series – Croatian game devs Croteam – The Talos Principle puts players in the nuts and bolts of a sentient AI, placed in a metaphysical world by Elohim (your self-proclaimed God) to solve puzzles and ascend to a higher plane. The narrative is ambitious – a parable about intelligence and meaning in an inevitably doomed world – and, if you don’t mind me saying so, high above your average person’s level of comprehension – it was certainly above mine. Fortunately, however, the narrative is told (mostly) unobtrusively through computer terminals, audio logs and the omniscient voice of your god. Though I appreciated that Croteam were treating me like a big boy, telling a mature and considered tale, I was far more interested and compelled by the superb puzzling.
The puzzles in The Talos Principle are somewhat rudimentary, making them very easy to pick up and understand, but don’t be lured into a false sense of security, they are certainly not easy to master. You will move between puzzle rooms, connected by beautiful courtyards of ancient ruins and worn scenery, where you’ll be tasked with disrupting force-fields, connecting series’ of laser beams, manipulating enemies, placing boxes on switches and so much more. Each puzzle room is expertly designed, subtly offering environmental hints about what you have to do but absolutely never holding your hand.
Within these puzzle rooms your goal is always the same: Collect the sigil, a Tetris like puzzle piece that can be used to open doors and unlock new equipment. The sense of satisfaction each and every time you reach that sigil is incredible; The Talos Principle is a constant stream of mini-victories. As the game slowly progresses, you’ll have to find unique ways of combining each of your skills and abilities to reach that precious sigil and pacing is absolutely spot on. You’re afforded just enough time to master one method before the game throws you another, you never feel overwhelmed and the learning curve is steady.
Almost as impressive as the puzzles themselves is the way that everything fits together, lending a constant sense of progression and a way to keep track of all that’s going on. You’ll constantly be working towards multiple sigil sets and these are displayed on screen, so you can see which pieces you have and which ones you need. Even cooler is how the game tells you which area holds what pieces. Signs at the entrance of each area display which sigils are up for grabs and these are crossed off as you overcome the relevant puzzles. Within each area, similar signs point you in the right direction of each sigil and these too are crossed off as you collect them. It’s an excellent, environmental way of tracking your progression that never pulls you out of the experience.
In addition to the roughly 20-hour (depending on your prowess) main campaign, Croteam has thrown in the expansion – Road to Gehenna – for this ‘Deluxe Edition.’ And while its story doesn’t quite compare to the game proper, the outstanding puzzling remains.
As a first-person puzzler, it is hard to avoid comparisons to two of the greatest games to ever grace the genre: Portal and Portal 2. The greatest compliment that I can pay The Talos Principle is that it’s right up there with Valve’s masterpieces.