Have You Played… The Talos Principle?

talos principle

Have You Played? is an endless stream of game retrospectives. One a day, every day, perhaps for all time.

What was the logical next step for the developers of dual machine gun toting, beheaded bomber slaying Serious Sam? A thoughtful, philosophical puzzler in the vein of Portal, of course.

In The Talos Principle [official site] you play as a robot, guided through the game by a disembodied voice calling itself Elohim. Imagine the Stanley Parable narrator but with more pompous severity and you’ll have a good idea what you’re in for.

The puzzles are always good and often brilliant, creating that ‘I’m a GENIUS’ feeling that only the best games can manage. The puzzle elements themselves are nothing revolutionary – we’ve been redirecting laser beams for decades, and the cloning mechanics that appear later on in the game are similar to those in PB Winterbottom. Where it succeeded was in blending those and other elements together to create satisfying cerebral head scratchers.

For me though, the most memorable parts of it weren’t the puzzles but the philosophical musings that accompanied them. I was in the middle of my first year of my philosophy degree when it released, and thoughts directly inspired by the game made it into my coursework.

It has its limits: at certain points, you’re asked to pick which statements about the nature of consciousness that you agree with, and then it pokes at supposed contradictions within your answers. Obviously that back and forth can only go so far – there are only so many responses the developers could anticipate.

I’ll keep dreaming of the day when I can have a nuanced philosophical conversation with an AI, and when Destiny rewards me with an interesting thought experiment rather than a cool gun at the end of each mission.

20 Comments

  1. DeepSleeper says:

    Yes, but I haven’t played the Road to Gehenna expansion pack. Can anyone weigh in on whether that’s any good?

    • LexxieJ says:

      Yep, it’s excellent. To reuse the oft-used phrase, if you like the main game, you’ll love RTG.

    • mashkeyboardgetusername says:

      Still good, but I didn’t like it as much as the main game. The puzzles often felt less “a-ha!” and more “oh, for crying out loud” on completion. And the terminal interactions were nowhere near as cool as sparring with Milton.

      • LexxieJ says:

        I agree about the terminal interactions not being as good, but didn’t find the puzzles any more frustrating than the main game; just a little tougher…

      • LW says:

        I actually liked the DLC more than the base game, though it does pick off right where the base finished in terms of difficulty. Less busywork, more cleverness required.

  2. Premium User Badge

    subdog says:

    Brilliant game, frustrating finale. Putting a countdown timer on a game that until that point had been all about taking your time and experimenting was a huge misstep. I get that they’re trying to ratchet up the tension, but it ceases to be tense as soon as I have to replay any part of it.

  3. mitrovarr says:

    I really enjoyed this game. It really shows how important story and context is, and how much good writing can rescue fairly standard game mechanics. It’s not just the philosophical musings, it’s the posts from the outside world that really made the story.

    I think it’s a really good contrast with the Witness, which seems to have intentionally avoided a narrative focus. The Witness didn’t work for me – I felt somewhat annoyed and let down at the end that I never got any explanation about anything. Whereas the Talos Principle felt like a much richer experience, and I finished it with very good feelings for the game despite getting a bit tired of the puzzles by the end (not even close to as tired as I was of the Witness, though).

  4. cpt_freakout says:

    There’s few games whose writing have impressed me so much. There’s a couple ideas the game explored that I still think about every now and then, so yeah, it really got to me! So much that I looked up who’d written it (the ever so excellent Jonas Kyratzes) and immediately started playing his Lands of Dream series, which I absolutely loved and widely recommend to anyone who liked this.

    • DeepSleeper says:

      I’ve just messed a bit with one of the free Lands of Dream games and promptly added The Sea Will Claim Everything to my wishlist over on Steam.

  5. Disgruntled Goat says:

    There is always that point in a puzzle game when I get utterly stumped, and pull up a walkthrough to figure out what I’m missing. And inevitably, it’s a solution I never would have thought of in a million years.

    I guess I’m saying that I’m too dumb to be playing puzzle games.

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      phuzz says:

      I can’t decide if that’s better or worse than the “duh! why didn’t I think of that?” reaction I often have.
      On one hand I feel good that I can at least understand the solution, but on the other hand I wonder if another five minutes of thought would have let me solve it myself, and maybe I’m being too lazy.
      Mind you, I’m happy to look up solutions and walkthru’s in games, for me the playing is more important than the fact I ‘cheated’.

    • mitrovarr says:

      For whatever it’s worth, that never happened to me in the Talos Principle.

    • LTK says:

      The Talos Principle is really challenging, and I think we all have moments where we’re completely stumped. There’s nothing wrong with looking up the solution if you gave it your best, but the real accomplishment is when you take a good, hard look at your ideas and preconceptions about the puzzle and find the blind spot or mistake, and solve it anyway. I’d say all the effort before that is just half a solution. So work until you’re stumped, and then don’t give up until you’ve been stumped for as long as it took to get there.

      That’s how I tend to do it, but even then it doesn’t always work. I solved that one puzzle with all the forcefields in sequence but I’ll be damned if I can remember how…

  6. nattydee says:

    Such a great game. I still haven’t played the DLC, I’ll need to dig into that at some point. The (spoilers) AI and simulation conceit worked really effectively for me, and I loved that 100%’ing the game definitively doesn’t give the best ending. It’s also packed with easter eggs if you feel like searching every nook and cranny, which is good fun.

    I have this thing with puzzle games though, which is that I really only allow myself so much time sitting in frustration trying to suss out exactly what the solution might be. I understand that the experience of overcoming that frustration organically is part of what makes puzzle games rewarding, but being at a time in my life where I really don’t want to spend hours trying to lateral think my way to solving puzzles, I often find myself setting a mental stopwatch after 10 minutes or so and reaching for some sort of hint online.

    Does anyone else experience this? Any advice on how can I enjoy the spirit of puzzle games without the anxiety that hours put into being stumped will ultimately be fruitless?

    • Premium User Badge

      Big Dunc says:

      I’m pretty much the same. I have a wife and three young children, so my gaming time is really limited, and I don’t want to spend hours scratching my head trying to solve a single puzzle when I have a massive backlog of games to play. It does mean that I don’t always get the satisfaction of solving a puzzle myself however, but sadly that’s the trade off.

  7. muro says:

    Enjoyed the game a lot, however / despite there is something wrong with the engine. I get a headache after a few minutes of playing and it’s the only game I ever played which does that.

  8. Merus says:

    People have mentioned how the puzzle design is good, but I want to emphasise that the puzzle design on the Talos Principle is really good. There’s plenty of puzzle games that come up with new mechanics but don’t have the ability to work out how to turn that into a series of really satisfying puzzles. The Talos Principle has mechanics which aren’t anything to write home about, but oh! did Croteam demonstrate their level design chops and made sure every single puzzle had something new to say. And quite a lot of them have secondary puzzles layered on top of them: the first time you see a collectible star floating outside a puzzle and realise that there’s supposed to be a way to get that is mind-blowing.

  9. CitizenX3639 says:

    I would say its right behind the Portal series as best puzzle/adventure game. If a fan of those I would highly recommend Aporia Beyond the Valley not as much puzzle focused, but story is worth the journey.

  10. Simplex says:

    You could have mentioned the well-received VR version.
    link to store.steampowered.com

  11. Jack_Empty says:

    The writing was good, if a little familar as a fan of sci-fi and all the associated ‘Are you an AI?’ tropes. I tried the Turing Test as it was given away on XBLG, it really made me appreciate so much of what Talos does right.

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