I have always been a fan of high-concept science fiction. The works of Isaac Asimov and Philip K. Dick have always been some of my favorites, and out of the wide array of topics that science fiction can cover, I always find the most interesting stories to be about what humanity is at its core. The Talos Principle is a dream come true in that regard, and while this updated release on current-gen consoles may still have some issues with the camera and the overall control scheme, it remains an interesting and philosophical story revolving around the idea of intelligence and humanity through emotion and thought. It requires quite a lot of free time on the part of the player to experience everything the game (and its included downloadable expansion) has to offer, but the quality of the writing and the interesting puzzles make the effort required more than worth it.
The plot revolves around the idea of sentience in robotic life and what that entails in the form of ‘human’ rights. The question this game presents is whether humanity is defined by our minds and the way we think, or simply by our biology as creatures of flesh and blood? Should robots with emotions be treated with the same respect as we treat humankind? These are the questions that The Talos Principle seeks to answer through its narrative, a story seemingly pulled straight from a science fiction novel that has relatively few characters but still manages to evoke a powerful and emotional message. It blends religious concepts, moral questioning, and human ethics together, and these plot elements create the main driving force of the game. Even as the various puzzles begin to steadily ramp up in difficulty, I found myself pushing on to learn which direction the story would take me next, even if a good portion of it is contained in text boxes instead of in-game events or cutscenes.
You play as a nameless android who wakes up in a peaceful glade, given little time to process everything around you before hearing a voice from the heavens. This omniscient being refers to itself as Elohim, and declares you one of his children, tasked with exploring the world around you and collecting sigils to prove your worth and unlock even greater challenges. While you complete puzzles to collect these tetromino-shaped sigils, a massive tower looms in the distance, a watchtower that oversees all your progress and accomplishments. Elohim warns you at every turn to not go up the tower, lest you be destroyed by your own curiosity, but as more characters and opinions emerge you are forced with choices that may alter the fate of this apparent paradise forever. You may have little interaction with these characters in any direct way, but they are more a means to show you your options instead of to function as a means for character development. They give their opinions on your existence, the presence of the tower, and the motives of Elohim through both QR graffiti covering the walls and a mysteriously talkative library program that monitors your progress as you solve each world. They’re interesting foils to the plot as a whole, used as tools to relate to the player and to give them new ways of thinking when it comes to the situation instead of act as opinions themselves.
While the plot and the characters are the highlight of the experience, the puzzles are the glue holding the game together. They use simple mechanics that you’ve no doubt seen in many other puzzle games before, such as moving boxes into a staircase shape to reach inaccessible areas or reflecting lasers throughout a room in order to open a door. The elements contained within the majority of the game’s world are standard, as many games have experimented with laser refracting puzzles and boxes before, but that is by no means a bad thing. By sectioning off each puzzle room to be completed in any order the player desires, the player has a chance to learn and develop basic puzzle-solving concepts in order to use them in more complicated situations in the future, eventually allowing for some truly creative uses of seemingly simple mechanics. It presents a difficulty curve that never takes any sharp inclines but instead gives the players the tools they need to teach themselves and let them use their intelligence in order to bypass the obstacles ahead. This also ties in to the story in some very surreal ways that I won’t spoil here, but as far as the main puzzle gameplay is concerned it is more than serviceable, especially considering how it only uses basic building blocks to make some mind-bending challenges. There are some issues with camera control (the most prominent of which being the way the camera will snap back to the default position every now and again for seemingly no reason,) and the more timing-based puzzles can grow irritating with the sometimes wonky movement your android character displays, but for the most part the meat of the gameplay works out quite well.
The visuals also deserve mention for their sheer beauty, sometimes creating some stunning vistas that one can find independent of the puzzle sections. You’ll travel from wide open, peaceful plains to oppressive factories, Egyptian temples to decrepit stone fortresses, and each one looks just as visually appealing as the last. They only serve as hub worlds to access the many puzzles the game contains, but it can be a real treat to step off the beaten path every once in a while and find something breathtaking just over the horizon. One of my favorite moments in the game occurred when I decided to hunt for hidden puzzles near the beginning of the game, only to scale down a short cliff face in order to find a massive lake, shimmering and glistening in the evening sun. The PS4 version may not live up to the Ultra settings one can find on PC, but it gets pretty close, and while it may not be the best looking game on the market right now, its environment design is something to be appreciated, if only for the level of care put into the areas that have no effect on the gameplay.
The Talos Principle: Deluxe Edition also bundles in the Road to Gehenna expansion released in July, and it adds some considerable length to the gexperience as a whole, adding on what is essentially another 10 hour campaign on top of the 15 hour one the base game presents. Instead of focusing on sigil collection, you instead are solving puzzles in new locations in order to save trapped robots. While it doesn’t add any new mechanics to the puzzles overall, it does add a brand new story that somehow remains just as interesting as the first one, and some devilishly creative situations for you to puzzle your way out of. I recommend playing the main game first before moving on to Road to Gehenna, as the puzzles contained within it are of far higher difficulty than anything you will find in the main game (except for perhaps some of the trickier bonus rooms) and the story weaves in with the original title in some interesting ways.
As a whole, The Talos Principle is a strong puzzle game that offers plenty to enjoy for fans of science fiction and puzzle games alike. It presents a strong narrative and a logical difficulty curve that respects the intelligence of the player, offering both a fantastic story to follow and a nice meaty gameplay focus that doesn’t overwhelm the player with needlessly complicated mechanics and instead relies on basic elements to create substantial challenges. The DLC adds on more of the same, and this PS4 version is a perfect way to experience them both if you haven’t had the pleasure of doing so before. It doesn’t add much in the form of content for returning players, but it’s still a wonderful game, and I heartily recommend it to all those interested.