After putting in a solid dozen or so hours into The Talos Principle, I can safely say that I remain both delighted and intimidated by puzzle games of this sort. I’m not sure what this might say about my gaming tendencies generally, only that my recent years in gaming have shown that I’m super cautious about picking up new titles. And that I’m bad at puzzle games, even though I like them in principle. (No pun intended.)
Case in point, when this intriguing Croteam/Devolver Digital title first released in 2014, I was immediately enamored of its mystique. Between trailers, gameplay, and Croteam’s own thought-provoking description of the game…
As if awakening from a deep sleep, you find yourself in a strange, contradictory world of ancient ruins and advanced technology. Tasked by your creator with solving a series of increasingly complex puzzles, you must decide whether to have faith, or to ask the difficult questions: Who are you? What is your purpose. And what are you going to do about it?
…it sounded too good to pass up.
And yet, pass it up I did. Because at the time, the only similar puzzle games I had under my belt were the Portal titles. As I said, I’ve always had a tough time with puzzle games, and that was certainly true with my first playthroughs of Portal and Portal 2. Puzzle games tend to set both halves of my brain at odds, with the creative side finding them fulfilling, while the mathematical side battles with frustration. If anything comes from my attempts at puzzling, it’s usually a headache. But the thing of it is that the internal reward of solving puzzles tends to override my general bafflement, so I keep going, as I kept going with the Portal games, thankfully. I hope to keep going with The Talos Principle.
Described by the developers as “philosophical first person puzzle game,” The Talos Principle drops you (an android) in the middle of a world populated by at least three (maybe more, but three is all I’ve found so far) smaller worlds that contain several individual levels, and it’s in these levels that the “philosophical” puzzles lie. Your goal is to find and retrieve different (Tetris-like) sigils from each level, as the sigils are required to (1) open up further areas in the game and (2) allow access to the game’s various puzzle-solving mechanisms, such as jammers that help open doors and disable pesky drones, and boxes that allow access to high regions or can be used to block or trap drones. Indeed, drones, which can sense you and blow up if you get too close, are just one of the “enemies” within the game. Troublesome turrets are another, as are non-exploding drones that serve as obstacles. Progressing through the game means reaching and solving more complex puzzles with an increasing arsenal of puzzle-solving mechanisms – each particular puzzle area will show you what to expect and what you’re seeking beforehand. And if you run into trouble, you can easily reset your work within the area or exit the area entirely to try again. There are no timers to worry about or punishiments for getting things wrong; you solve at your own pace in peace.
In addition to finding and solving sigil puzzles, the game also offers up a backstory for the world you inhabit. While you have no name, you are led by a “creator’s” voice that goes by Elohim. Within each region, computer terminal give out information that ranges from Greek mythologies to one science team’s work to preserve humanity (as we knew it) in its final hours. It seems clear that the android I’m controlling(?) is intelligent and wants to know more its world and itself. I can travel to specific points of the world’s map that are vocally “disallowed” by Elohim. (Though if I find enough sigils, apparently I can defy Elohim and travel to…? I don’t know yet.) As well, scattered QR codes reveal that my particular android is likely not the first to travel through Elohim’s maze; others seemed to try and succeed to varying degrees while leaving their thoughts – some humorous, others doleful – about their situations. The mix of present puzzling and past musings is compelling, and it makes me all the more interested in “solving” my android’s plight.
As I’m flitting back and forth between the three mini-worlds I’ve so far discovered in the game, I remains as baffled and engaged as I was when I first played through Portal. There are areas that seem impossible next to areas that take only moments to solve. The freedom of movement between these mini-worlds is welcome, since it at least makes me feel like I’m able to progress a little further with each session, thereby providing further insights into my android’s reason for being and the world it inhabits. My only concern is that I will eventually get stuck, like really stuck. If I have but one hope it’s that at some point I can gain access to the game’s “messengers,” which supposedly give puzzle hints. I’m hoping to avoid hopping online for help, but…yes…that’s always there, too.
All in all, I’m having a mighty fine time with The Talos Principle and would heartily give a thumbs up to the portion I’ve played. The fact that there’s no hurry to get to its end is a good thing given that it’s the kind of game I can only play in small doses. Whenever I do get to its end, I’m sure that whatever lies in store for me and my android will have been worth the wait.
All images, included lede, taken by author during gameplay of The Talos Principle (© 2014 Croteam, Devolver Digital) on the PS4.