In Jim’s Henson’s movie Labyrinth, there’s a scene where the protagonist (who is stuck in said labyrinth) is told that a solid rock wall contains an opening. After visually inspecting the wall and believing that if it looks like a wall, it is a wall (onscreen, it does look like a solid wall), she’s told by another character things aren’t as they seem in the maze. With much hesitation, she walks up to the wall with her hands out in front of her, and discovers, lo and behold, there is an opening, hiding in plain site as an illusion no less. With this knowledge, exploring the labyrinth then took on a whole new meaning. Or so we’re mildly led to believe, anyway.
This experience sums up my time with the amazing puzzle game, The Talos Principle, only that, if I had been in that girl’s shoes, I would have likely died at that wall while waiting for someone else to take the first step. After all, if it looks like a wall and smells like a wall, it’s a wall So when I discovered an unbeknownst mechanic late in The Talos Principle, it quite literally was a game changer for me and my stodgy brain. They say it’s never to late to learn, and with me and The Talos Principle, that saying resonated fully.
Along with omg ur so stupid. But I digress.
I won’t reveal any in-depth secrets ahead, but there may be some unmarked spoilers, so tread as you wish. TL;DR The Talos Principle is an excellent game. Its spatial puzzles are challenging, and successfully solving them is rewarding. The game presents an interesting future/past vision of a doomed humanity’s attempt to save itself.
To sum up from my previous post on the game, The Talos Principle plops you, an android, in the middle of world filled with puzzles. The world contains three distinct areas contains with buildings. Building A represented life (Greek-inspired ruins). Building B represented death (Egyptian-inspired ruins). Building C represented faith (ruins inspired by religious structures). In addition, there was also a mysterious tower that rose high into the clouds, the floors of which held even more puzzles. After awakening, you’re told by a voice recognizing itself as Elohim, the creator of you and the world, that you have but one purpose: to locate sigils that are hidden in each world. Each sigil you find, Elohim purports, will bring you “closer to eternity.” Find all the sigils, and you can then fulfill your purpose to “attain eternal life.” The sigils in question all lay in wait within each of the main’s main areas. Getting to them – the sigils – required manipulating various tools to open paths to the sigil within each puzzle, as well as dealing with or avoiding harmful obstacles such as bombs and turrets.
At the time of my first writing, I thought I was at least halfway through the game, but I soon found that there was much more to The Talos Principle than met the eye. Take its secret stars, for example. Okay, so the stars themselves aren’t really secret, as each building doesn’t hide the fact that in addition to it seven accessible portals there is also a locked gate with a star on it. As well, the signs in front of each portal that tell you what sigils lay within also note whether or not there are any stars in that area.
Early on I was quite curious about these starred gates and what lay behind them, but my curiosity was thwarted by the fact that just finding the stars, let alone getting to them, wasn’t at all easy. Any puzzle area usually had between three to six sigils to find, and once you were in a puzzle area, signs directed you to each sigil puzzle. That was not the case with the stars. It was up to you to scour the area to find where any might be hidden. I randomly stumbled upon finding my first star in a Building A level, and was excited to do so, but after further bumbling around trying to figure out how to get to it (none of the tools at my immediate disposal were of any use), I gave up. It was then I decided that I would try to get all the sigils first and focus on the stars later. Which is exactly what I did. And, indeed, when my sigil stash became great enough, Elohim proudly announced that I was ready for salvation. A set of ornate doors in Building C opened wide with light pouring in. I entered and was received at a set of golden gates in the sky. There, I was put to rest along, supposedly along with the many others before me that had taken the same journey.
To be crystal clear, it was all a simulation. I was nothing more than a player in an electronic Garden of Eden. And it my so-called salvation was unsatisfying, to say the least. After all, what about all those stars, and that strange tower? I was not simply happy calling a wall a wall like the girl in Labyrinth; there had to be more to this story. So, I loaded a save previous to my deliverance from evil, and went back into the game.
Now, lest you take me for a genius, I must be honest about things went from here on out, and overall. I did not get through The Talos Principle on my minimally useful wits alone. The proudest thing I can offer is that I did manage to find all the sigils without using any of the in-game hints. (In fact, I didn’t even find the hint-givers – the game’s “messengers” – until after that first ending.) However, I did take hints from a couple helpful online text walkthroughs, because getting to some of the later-stage sigils was downright difficult. This was especially true in stages that required me to think ahead several steps – I am no chess player, and the act of figuring things out sometimes gave me real-life headaches.
I also used hints for locating if not getting at each of the available stars. I didn’t know it at the time, but doing so led me to the singularly most affecting “a-ha!” moment I experienced in the game. It was the discovery that I could take objects out of their puzzle spaces. For you see, each sigil puzzle was walled off from the rest in any given area. The only way to access them was through doorways screened with purple barriers, barriers that only allowed you in and out, but not objects. Finding out that there were ways I could take tools from their puzzles, and further, make them usable in parts of other walled-off puzzle was purely mind-blowing. It totally transformed my experiences with the game, from my impressions of Elohim, to my purpose, to the mechanics of the game itself. No longer was a wall just a wall. Finding that opening changed everything.
And so, I started looking for ways to subvert the system. This “thinking outside the box” led me to finding the game’s “messengers” and a different ending whereby I became one of them. With the combination of a little hard-thinking and Internet hints, I came across other secrets, such as how the game’s QR-encoded messages could be read by an actual QR code reader. As well, having a little knowledge of the hexadecimal system goes a long way in the game, and more often than not, sometimes you just have to the sky for answers.
And what of the game’s mysterious tower? Suffice to say, after getting the “messengers” ending, I reloaded in order to make my way up the tower, which proved an interesting and hearty challenge all its own. As Elohim rebuked me the farther up I ascended, the more determined I became to get to the top. And once I did, I can only say that making my way through its top-floor puzzle was a harrowing experience, as “death” clipped at my heels the whole way. But making it through revealed the best ending, one as heartfelt as it was heartbreaking, but one that made sense given all the information I had been collecting along the way.
Speaking of all that information, I didn’t touch upon the game’s themes, its religious overtones, or its myth-based settings. That’s a discussion for another time. Notably, The Talos Principle fall in line with several games I’ve played recently that present some vision of a future where humanity attempt to save itself (in this case, its information) in the face of total annihilation. As someone who’s job it is to collect and save history, this last ending to The Talos Principle hit a very emotional spot. At a certain point, as I was defying Elohim in the tower, his pleas to turn back became so desperate that I almost did. After all, was there anything so wrong about going out on a high note, being saved from the sad fate of the world? I don’t mind that The Talos Principle made me think about that. It only proves that I still have a lot to learn.
All images, included lede, taken by author during gameplay of The Talos Principle (© 2014 Croteam, Devolver Digital) on the PS4.