In September 2014 I went to the Eurogamer Expo and tucked away in the Sony area I saw a little game called The Talos Principle. I had a short go and wrote in summary of the trip:
“… it’s an FPS puzzle game. The demo was set in a grassy castle courtyard and involved moving around different reflectors to move light and open doors to collect puzzle pieces. This could be a neat little game, and I enjoyed it”
Well it came out on PC and late last year on PS4. I took advantage of a price drop in the sales over Christmas and finally I got to spend some time with it. 11 hours later after a mind-bending experience it has become one of my favourite games in recent memory.
The Talos Principle begins as you awaken in a garden and a voice, Elohim talks to you and tells you he has created worlds for you to explore and sigils (Tetris pieces) to collect for you to reach enlightenment. Similarities to Portal are strong here, an overarching voice, specific puzzle rooms and a ‘hub’ world with a mysterious plot. As you solve puzzles, computer screens dotted around powered by the Milton Library Assistant give you some information on the backstory and communicate with you as you try to discover who you are, what you are, where, when, why and more. You are a robot, but are you conscious?
The game cleverly paces the story through these terminals and with Elohim and it unravels both your role in the game and the backstory about how it came to be. I found myself gripped by the concept of it, despite there being text to read rather than narrative to listen to. With three different endings (I have seen two) it goes someway towards concluding the plot in various ways and filling in the blanks.
The guts of the game though are the puzzles and they are almost all very clever, and some are fiendishly hard. The curve though is brilliant, you start out with some simple blocks and pressure pad puzzles, through to coloured light connectors, fans, power switches and even the ability to record yourself and objects and have them play back to you. All of these abilities are unlocked through the collection of the sigils and a small mini game of fitting the blocks into a space.
I mentioned the difficulty curve and concepts are introduced well to keep you both interested and equip you for later puzzles. For example, a red light goes to a red connector and opens a red door. But, if you have a blue light and door then it’s beam cannot cross with a red one. So, you need to be clever. There might be an option for height adjustment somewhere or you need to think outside the box. There is a level early on where you need to manipulate the puzzle to get a connector out of a blocked room. You can open the door from one side but need to be able to open from another to get out with the piece. I sat and stared at it, walked around, talked myself through the component parts and a light of genius hits and it becomes simple. This is the case with very many of the puzzles in Talos, and you feel like Einstein for completing every single one. I honestly feel like Calculus is child’s play compared to what I’ve done in Talos.
The worlds are beautiful. Each look different and have lovely little touches like broken ruins, waterfalls, overgrowth sprouting. Sound effects are fairly limited in variety but effective but the music deserves a special mention. It’s brilliant, quite simply a stunning soundtrack that I’ve found myself listening to outside of the game. You are aware of it but it doesn’t corrupt your thinking, it feels additive. It feels serene what you are approaching a challenge, it feels tense when you’re close to solving something. With fear of cliché I would refer to it as an ‘epic’ accompaniment to the gameplay.
As you get closer to the end, the puzzles get more challenging. But you’re increased skill set never makes you feel underwhelmed but instead proactive towards solving challenges in a logical way. I found my approach later in the game would be systematically assessing the goal location, the puzzle elements, the tools I have and bringing them together and laying out my toolset before dismantling each challenge before unlocking the sigil.
Hidden within the game world are Stars. These are super hard collectibles – I saw a few and collected less. I believe these need to be collected for the final ending so that will keep me busy. On PS4, included are the Road to Gehenna DLC levels – the plot of which I won’t spoil as it follows from the main game but it’s an additional set of super hard challenges. I have just started these and almost don’t want to carry on simply because there will be no more Talos afterwards.
What a game. It kept me riveted over Christmas. It’s still on special offer until 22nd Jan on the PSN Store for £16. It would be crazy not to buy it.
Reviewed on PS4