I first saw Croteam‘s first-person puzzler on Steam several weeks ago, seeing the title card as The Talos Principle. With interest captured, I went to the game’s store page for the Public Test version of the game. It was free, so I decided then and there to download to my library and fire it up. The game plays in a manner very similar to Portal, the popular puzzler by VALVe Corporation. Instead of using a portal gun, however, you use only your two hands. The premise of The Talos Principle is somewhat very simple, but the game explores more of the story, weaving an intricate web of philosophy.
You play as a robot, waking up in a beautiful world littered with Greek-style ruins (which happens to be called The Land of Ruins) and a booming voice from the heavens introducing himself as ELOHIM. The Christian influences are quite apparent here, as some denominations agree that God’s name is indeed Elohim, but I digress. ELOHIM directs you to complete a series of puzzles scattered throughout the vast world scattered over three areas, the aforementioned Greek Land of Ruins, the Egyptian-themed Land of Death, and the Medieval-style Land of Faith. While completing the seven levels in each world, you interact with these computer terminals with files related to the history of the game’s setting, even coming into contact with an automated system called the Milton Library Assistant, simply known as Milton.
The gameplay mechanics are very responsive, and the puzzles are very cerebral in their solutions. You start with the basic Jammers, camera-looking devices on tripods that disable any electrical device they’re pointed at, be it a static barrier, floating mine, or even a powerful fan. You’ll soon unlock more devices mandatory to solving the later puzzles, including the Connector, which splits and redirects light beams, the simple Block for propping up devices or using as a platform (like the Aperture Science cubes), and the Recorder, a device that lets you prerecord actions in the puzzle, essentially creating a virtual clone needed to solve the more difficult puzzles. There are times where you get stuck, so the game has a reset feature where holding the X key causes you to press and hold a button on the back of your hand, literally rewinding the level to the beginning of the puzzle you’re trying to solve. The same thing happens when you die by any circumstance, whether falling off a cliff marking the boundary of the level, getting blown up by a floating mine, or getting shot to pieces by an automated turret. I did have gripes with the game on some of the puzzles, as some of the setups did seem insanely difficult to solve…until I realized that I wasn’t thinking creatively enough, to my frustration (an error on my part, not the game’s…a touch of brilliance). The goal of each puzzle is the same: figure out how to get to the end of the puzzle and collect a Sigil, a tetromino that looks like any of the pieces from Tetris. You use these Sigils to unlock other areas in the game, as the lock mechanisms require you to fit a certain array of Tetris pieces perfectly on a quadrilateral board.
The Christian themes are prevalent in the game, with the cathedral representing the Land of Faith, the seemingly all-powerful entity known as ELOHIM acting as God, and Milton…you’ll probably get who Milton is most like when you interact with him. There are also messages left behind by other people left in the form of QR codes on white paint, sparking indirect discussions about the world, the meaning of the puzzles, and the mystery surrounding ELOHIM and the Tower, a colossal structure that you’re forbidden from climbing. Additionally, finding the bonus audio logs and files in the computer terminals scattered throughout the game reveal the truth of the world in which [REDACTED]. The game has three distinct endings, one of which is only discovered by solving all of the bonus levels and puzzles beyond the standard sets in the game.
As I may have stated before, the game’s main theme explores the philosophy of humanity, what it means to be human, and whether existence merely makes humanity out to be not much different from the synthetic machines humanity has created. Here the discussions are left entirely to the player’s choice of words. I looked at the discussions from a fairly balanced viewpoint, as I personally believe blind faith is just as dangerous as being overly skeptical of the world. The game’s deep exploration of these concepts was rather stimulating, intellectually speaking, and I found myself very satisfied with the result I ended up with. The high praise from critics, I think, are well-deserved, as The Talos Principle lived up to my expectations based on what I played through with the Public Test version of the game. For the moderate price of $39.99 (currently 10% off as part of Steam’s Holiday Sale, making the game currently $35.99), I highly recommend playing through Croteam’s puzzler gem. The developers of the Serious Sam series have come through with a spectacular title if you’re a fan of Portal or puzzle games in general. Give The Talos Priniciple a definite look and you won’t be disappointed.
Verdict: 9/10 (Devour It Now)
+ Intricate storytelling || + Excellent mechanics || + Inventive puzzles that make you think
= Some puzzles have you get creative to find the solution
– Some of the more difficult levels can be frustrating