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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:

And sure, that's the whole point of a puzzle game, but it's the way those "A-Ha!" moments come to you in The Talos Principle that I really appreciate. There are very few puzzle mechanics in The Talos Principle — maybe six objects overall — but the developers have done an excellent job of building puzzles in such a way that you're always discovering new uses.

There was one puzzle — I don't want to spoil it so I'll keep this incredibly vague — where I struggled for about twenty minutes, trying and dying repeatedly. The Talos Principle doesn't gate your progress until late in the game so I left, did some other puzzles, and came back. Still couldn't figure it out.

I finally picked up a box in frustration and did something stupid with it, laughing because it was like a surreal virtual prank. Two seconds later my mouth dropped open when I realized I'd uncovered the solution by accident.

That sort of moment is so rare in games, where the developers say, "It's okay to be stuck. It's okay to keep trying." There's a built-in help system, but even that is locked behind a number of barriers both physical and mental. And to be honest I don't even know what it consists of because I didn't use it.

And then there's a second layer of puzzles on top of the first — hidden stars in each world that take even more abstract thinking to unlock. At the moment I've only uncovered about a dozen. They're hard.

The puzzles aren't perfect. Unlike Portal's short-and-sweet length, The Talos Principle contains probably over a hundred puzzles. I clocked about 10-12 hours and I'm still working on those star puzzles, and while I appreciate the amount of content there are some puzzles near the end that feel like busywork once you've got a good rhythm down.

Until you climb the tower, that is...

Faith

I don't want to skip over The Talos Principle's story because it's also full of "A-Ha!" moments.

It's nothing like Portal. I want to disabuse you of that right from the start. Where Portal is full of dry humor and spawned a thousand memes, The Talos Principle is a morose reflection on mortality, on what happens after we die, on the pursuit of truth and what it means to be human.

It's heady stuff, especially for a video game to tackle. You awake in a Garden, brought to life by a being named Elohim (Hebrew for "god" and/or "God"). Why? What is your purpose? Is your purpose just to solve puzzles?

The story plays out in a number of threads. There's Elohim himself, who warns you away from temptation. There are QR Codes imprinted on the walls, left by other people who came through the Garden. There are a handful of audio logs. And then there are the computer terminals, which house the Archive — a vast databank of texts, mostly corrupted. Each terminal has two or three texts which deal with everything from the works of Immanuel Kant to chatroom logs to personal emails to a translated story of Anubis.

 

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