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The RPS Advent Calendar, Dec 8th: The Talos Principle: Road To Gehenna

2015's best puzzle game.

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What is the best puzzle game of 2015? The RPS Advent Calendar highlights our favourite games from throughout the year, and behind today’s door is…

The Talos Principle: Road To Gehenna!

Adam: If I find myself writing about any more puzzle games in these calendar entries, I might have to re-evaluate my feelings about puzzles. I hate puzzles. I have Ernő Rubik’s face plastered across my dartboard so that I can periodically puncture him for ruining colours and cubes, and consider the occasional appearance of a Tower of Hanoi puzzle in an otherwise safe game to be an assault on my personal wellbeing. Shoot a thousand zombies in the brainstem? Sure. Transfer some discs from one rod to another? Not a chance. At best I’m going to reach for a walkthrough but there’s a distinct possibility I’m just going to quit and uninstall.

Sokoban is the worst offender. One day I’ll find the proof that the entire crate-shuffling exercise is derived from a lost Kafka story about the alienating absurdity of mindless labour.

On paper, The Talos Principle and its expansion Road To Gehenna sound like a trick. A wolf in sheep’s clothing. It’d be entirely possible to present the entire game to me as a story about artificial life, intelligence and worlds. Or an exploration of theism, myth and the consciousness. Those are things that could be interesting, particularly given that I like the work of Tom Jubert and Jonas Kyratzes, the game’s writers. That game – a sci-fi philosophical quandary set in a possibly virtual recreation of history and myth – sounds like it would be one of my favourite games of the year.

At some point I’m going to notice all of the puzzles though. Even if the writing is brilliant, I’m not going to stick with a book or a film that forces me to solve a puzzle every time I want to move the plot forward. That my first steps into The Talos Principle led me into rooms that reminded me of those light and mirrors puzzles that crop up unexpectedly from time to time should have added several nails to the coffin. As soon as the game introduced a device to record and replay actions, to solve puzzles requiring cooperation with your past self, the lid should have been firmly sealed and I should have been long gone.

And yet, here I am, having completed not only the base game, released last year, but this year’s superb expansion as well. I don’t know if it’s the first-person perspective that helps me to understand the construction of the puzzles or if it’s the beauty of the world and compelling text that fills it, but something kept me invested in The Talos Principle. Maybe it’s just that the puzzles are superbly designed. It’s more than likely that a combination of all those things, as well as the ways in which they form a cohesive whole, helps the game to appeal to even the most hardened puzzlephobe.

John: The Talos Principle was cruelly robbed of a place on last year’s psuedo-calendar, because it was rather silly and released in December. But boy it deserved one. The good news is, expansion pack Road To Gehenna not only assures this oversight is made up for this year, but entirely merits a spot in the list on its own.

Talos was a combination of puzzles as smart as anything in Portal, and a fascinating story that explored the philosophy of consciousness and existence, via a self-aware AI. These ontological ponderings are taken into a parallel story to the original game’s, set in a prison world in which cyborgs that have displeased the mighty Elohim are trapped. As Uriel – previously referred to in the main game – you set about freeing them because, well, they’re at the centre of a new set of ingenious puzzles.

What you find as you get further into these more complex puzzles of bounced laser beams, fans, blocks and barriers is that the prisoners aren’t entirely convinced they want to be rescued.

The result is another wonderful combination of mind-hurting challenges, and superbly interesting writing and thinking. The writing team of Tom Jubert and Jonas Kyratzes is one I want to see happen again and again, now we know they can repeat it. In Gehenna, they also rather wickedly explore the nature of online communities, and brilliantly skewer the most common memes. It also contains some of the most hilariously brilliant deliberately bad writing I’ve ever seen.

It’s a game that’s not only smart itself, but also makes you feel smart while you’re playing. Which is brills.

Go here for more of our picks for the best PC games of 2015.

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