The Talos Principle gave me an existential crisis. Midway through the game I had to set the controller down and question my own existence. Okay, I’m exaggerating…a lot. But The Talos Principle gave me flashbacks to the philosophy class I was forced to take in high school and it made me wish such a game existed back then to explain the concepts of humanity better. The depths The Talos Principle attempts to go is something I can immediately respect and get behind. The fact it also had challenging puzzles and a beautiful but mysterious world was the icing on the cake.
At its roots The Talos Principle is a thoughtful puzzler that uses a concept of gravity and angles—okay angles doesn’t sound too exciting but take my word for it that they play an important role. Yes, it is very similar to Portal or Anti-chamber, minus the futuristic mechanics. In The Talos Principle, you will be redirecting colored light beams into proper holes, placing blocks on buttons, and using fans to propel objects or you around the environment among other things. There are Tetris like pieces you need to collect that are at the end of every puzzle, and you use them to open new areas by placing them in the proper pattern.
As you progress you unlock new abilities and objects to further increase the diversity of the puzzles. They’re challenging and fun, and I had a blast experiencing each one. Even if some frustration inevitably ensued. It’s the puzzler you know and have come to expect, but while also being uniquely different. Almost as if it’s mirroring the exact concept it’s trying to teach you.
Passing off The Talos Principle as a generic puzzler is doing yourself a serious disservice. The opening may seem as such when you are taught simple puzzles, but soon enough things grow far more difficult. The last area has such a sharp increase in skill level I wouldn’t be surprised if it puts a few people off. I was flying through the puzzles feeling like the smart little boy I am right up until the last area where I became stuck on several puzzles for sometimes up to an hour. But I never had to look a solution up…okay fine I looked up one or two – or six answers – but I did the rest myself!
Finding the proper solution using the objectives they give you can really get your brain cranking. One pesky door won’t open no matter how you try. You move this object here, send this beam of light there, and presto, the doors open…but another one shut. Now you need to figure out how to keep both open. The puzzles are frustrating and addicting in all the best ways, but that isn’t my favorite part about The Talos Principle.
The beauty of The Talos Principle is the ability it has to tie in its story and concept material into the gameplay itself. There is a booming voice in the sky that goes by the name Elohim, or God, and claims you are his child in his garden. You can do anything you want as long as you don’t climb one particular tower, and immediately you are pressed with the concern: do I listen to him or do I ascend the tower?
Any 1st grade catholic school boy knows this is the Garden of Eden that Adam and Eve where in before the serpent tempted them with an apple. You are constantly told to have faith and trust in what you know, but then the game will play tricks forcing you to challenge yourself based off previous knowledge.
For instance, there is a repeating issue where crossing two light streams will negate the effect. Countless puzzles require you to figure out a way of using two different colored light streams without pulling a Ghost Busters. This is instilled in your brain so much that it becomes an accepted truth. When one puzzles then requires you to cross the streams to complete it. Your world and accepted laws are broken. You are taught to never cross the streams, but eventually it is the only solution.
In this very same way the narrative is forcing you to do think about life in this way. This may be the story about a mechanical man in which the title derives itself from the ancient Greek character. It’s clear the tie into morality, humanity, and especially Greek philosophy is ever present throughout the narrative. But it’s not presenting you with ideas that you just sit and soak in. You are taking part in the discussions yourself by answering questions from a computer terminal.
When the A.I. in the computer asks you to prove you’re real. How can you? You present concepts and ideas and it will throw them right back at you. You partake in this philosophical discovery to find your humanity…if that is possible to have as a robot.
These ideas and concepts that The Talos Principle presents I absolutely love and some of my favorite moments weren’t figuring out puzzles but trying to convince this computer that being alive did not mean having a beating heart. It was a challenge in itself and something I think many people will also enjoy. At the same time I can also see these text base discussions and dialogs annoying to those who have no patience to sit and read when they just want to solve puzzles. However, if you skip these computer terminals you are missing out on a big piece of the game and understanding the world it is taking place in.
That’s not to say you have to have an interest in philosophy or morality otherwise you can’t enjoy The Talos Principle. The puzzles are challenging, through provoking, and extremely satisfying when you figure them out on there own. You don’t need to question the meaning of life when you are trying to figure out how to open that damn door, and it’s perfectly okay to play The Talos Principle discarding the principles it tries to press on you. But unlike a story being told to you like Portal, where you are playing as a character and trying to keep her alive. The Talos Principle is about you and the decisions you make. It’s about looking at yourself with these concepts and applying them to the real world.
Or not, and maybe I’m just going overboard with its ideas. But I enjoy the pressing ideas of video games trying to do more than entertain and The Talos Principle does just that. I think it’s important to make such a strong note of it in this review because this is what makes The Talos Principle standout from other puzzlers, and it’s why I think so many people love the game as much as I do.
The story aside from all the philosophy it tries to ram down your throat is still interesting in its mysterious world. There are notes left in the form of QR codes by other robots doing the same puzzles as you. They either stand firm in their faith or question their purpose. It’s creates a layer of intrigue into the world. Why are there other robots like yourself? Why are these tasks being carried out? What is the purpose of all this? So on and so forth. These little notes address these concerns in a creative way like an online forum discussion.
There are also audio recordings of an actual human being who was attempting to build something. Through her recordings and separate emails you can read. You discover something else is also going on. There’s a level of uneasiness in the air, but I won’t say any more.
There are a few issues that can delude the entertainment and joy received throughout your time with The Talos Principle. Some puzzles will feel like they have the same solution as an earlier puzzle, and it doesn’t entice new excitement but feel more like going through the motions of something you already know. There were moments where I’d look at a puzzle, realize it was nearly identical to a previous puzzle, and instantly know the solution. In fairness, when a game has over a 100 puzzles there are bound to be some that are similar.
Some puzzles don’t involve much creative thinking and are more about just waiting for enemies to pass by. I always found these puzzles more annoying than anything. I knew the riddle right away, but I had to wait for these slow moving drones to pass by which made the puzzle take far longer than I wanted it to. This is exemplified by the fact many puzzles can be solved in less than two minutes.
Also like I said earlier the text base delivery using the computer can be great, but at the same time it can drag on a little bit. There were times I found myself wanting to push the conversation forward just to get it done so I could move on to the next puzzle. But most of all, the last world’s learning curve is so steep I think it will really put a few people off. It would he a shame for people to get so far and then quit, but some puzzles require such amazing precision I would never have solved it without looking up the answer.
The other matter worth mentioning is how this is a Deluxe Edition for the PS4. It’s great for anyone who’s never played The Talos Principle before. Since there is nothing new, aside from having the DLC Road to Gehenna in the same package, people who already own this game on PC can pass (you can read our original review on the PC version here). The Road to Gehenna is a well made edition. It offers more puzzles that are by far the most challenging and it even allows you to spend more time on a computer if that is your wish. So it’s a nice bonus on top of a game that will already run you close to 15 hours.
For those of you that love challenging puzzlers like Portal and may dabble in the philosophical realm now and again, the Talos Principle is definitely worth checking out. It’s not the perfect game, and the steep difficult curve towards the end might put off the more casual gamer. But the Talos Principle provides an exceptional experience for a puzzler, and a thought provoking piece of media.
This review is based off a review code for the Playstation 4 version of The Talos Principle developed by Croteam and distributed by Devolver Digital.
- Fun and Challenging Puzzles
- Beautiful and Mysterious World
- Philosophical Aspect Intriguing and Thought Provoking
- Text Heavy at Times
- Steep Increase In Difficulty
- Some Puzzles Can Be A Bore