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The Talos Principle review: The best puzzler since Portal

Hayden Dingman | Dec. 9, 2014
From a text in The Talos Principle:

From a text in The Talos Principle:

"You must consider these riddles," the Sphinx said, "and tell me the riddle that I did not reveal." The Sphinx smiled, the gears in her jaw creaking, her teeth a nightmare of rust. Her left eye flickered, but none of its terror was diminished. The ruins were silent.

"I think," she finally said, "that the riddle you did not reveal is this: why do these riddles exist in the first place? Why do these curious automatons, these mute children of Hephaestus, behave as they do, forcing me to devise these intricate solutions? Each is a riddle, but the greater riddle is their purpose."

The Sphinx did not answer.

Uncovering the Sphinx

Portal changed puzzle games. I don't think there's much dissent on that. Or if it didn't change puzzle games, it at least was so unique in its execution, so interesting in the way it twisted standard shooter tropes, that it opened new avenues for puzzle games to go down.

And so they did. Since Portal's release we've had a number of imitators — Q.U.B.E., Quantum Conundrum, Antichamber, and hell, even Portal 2. They all tried to recapture some indescribable feeling many people had when originally playing Portal. They all achieved varying levels of success in that pursuit.

The Talos Principle comes closest, as far as I'm concerned.

It's not because of the surface similarities, though those certainly abound. The Talos Principle's puzzles are arranged in discrete rooms, similar to Portal's test chambers. Each finished puzzle unlocks a Sigil, and collecting enough Sigils unlocks new puzzle mechanics and doors to even more puzzles. There's nothing as iconic in the puzzle mechanics as the Portal Gun, but redirecting lasers certainly feels familiar (to say nothing of the ubiquitous cubes and red switches on the floor).

That's really not why The Talos Principle is so great though. It's the "A-Ha!" moment.

Portal was excellent at the "A-Ha!" moment. Almost too excellent, in fact — since the game was only twenty levels long, it felt like you were still unraveling the full potential of portals when you finished the last bit.

The Talos Principle 's tangled network of laser beams and boxes and fans and signal jammers is packed with revelatory moments. There's a text you'll discover early in the game that says, "The way I see it, the world doesn't come with a manual. You gotta figure it out for yourself. A bit here, a bit there, put it together, try to make sense of it." The text makes sense in its story context too, but I have no doubt it was an important philosophy in developing The Talos Principle also.


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