Friday, July 17, 2015

Games Review: The Talos Principle

Remember Portal? Portal (and it's sequel) felt unique; a first person puzzle game with simple mechanics leading to ingenous solutions, coupled with an interesting and engaging story. In fact, it pretty much was unique - puzzle games lean towards the abstract rather than the immersive, and even there the balance of challenge and frustration is tough to get right. After all, you want your players to beat the puzzles, don't you? Part of the joy of the game is the buzz you get from working it all out. Even so it's surprising that Portal didn't spawn a host of imitators, but whilst there has been a handful, none seem to have nailed the balance quite so brilliantly as The Talos Principle


You awaken as a robot, in a garden, surround by ruins. A voice speaks to, introducing itself as your god, and telling you that this garden, and others like it, have been created for you to explore as you can. Each garden contains puzzles using a number of distinct elements, and solving the puzzles gains you access to more gardens, more puzzle elements, and, ultimately, ascension to the place appointed to you by god. Oh and there is this big tower, but you must never go there, get it? Never. Oh and don't listen to that voice in the Library computers, he will only lead you to temptation and doubt. 

The Talos Principle wears it's imagery on it's sleeve, but that's kind of the point. The mystery of the game is what is really going on, what the intend of the Garden of Worlds actually is, and what your role, as much as Elohim (God) and Milton  (The Devil) is to play in it. As you go through the game you can find fragments of old computer records, and  audio diaries of the lead programmer of something called "The Archive", slowly filling in what has led to this place, and this quixotic quest to collect Tetris blocks. But enough story, what about the actual puzzles? 

As you might hope, the game mechanics are elegant in their simplicity but devilish in their interaction. At the start of the game you have access to Jammers, which can open force fields, or stop roaming mines or gun turrets. You quicky get access to Prisms that redirect coloured light beams into light souces, weighted boxes you can put on buttons, or stand on, or, if you're a Portal fan, just cuddle, I guess? and then machines that let you record yourself, so you can co-operate with your own ghost. They start to quickly combine into harder and harder combinations, and thats just the standard puzzles. There are also "bonus" stars that unlock a whole new tier....! 

I was absorbed by The Talos Principle. I dreamed about solutions to it's puzzles, on more than one occasion waking up in the small hours with a solution in my head. (Side Note: This is not a popular thing to do) The puzzles make you feel smart when you solve them and dumb when you can't, but it was never frustrating, obscure or punishing. I can't speak for some of the "grey" levels though, as I've not tried many of them yet! If  you like puzzles, if you like a challenge, you have to try The Talos Principle. Even if just to annoy Elohim by climbing that damn tower.