The Turing Test
PC, Xbox One
These tests, we’re told, are beyond the capacity of machines; they can only be solved by a human brain. Well, perhaps not this one. Oh, we get there in the end – it turns out that this isn’t an example of needlessly finicky puzzle design so much as a reminder to look up occasionally – but it’s enough for us to concede that maybe we don’t represent the ideal of intelligent behaviour to which Turing’s paper referred.
Such sticking points are, thankfully, rare, which says much for the elegant escalation of challenge and complexity in Bulkhead Interactive’s designs – not least since it’s all accomplished without a word of assistance. These conundrums are built around the transferral of control, as you use a gun-shaped Energy Manipulation Tool (EMT) to vacuum up and launch energy orbs from one power source to another.
At first, that means nothing more taxing than finding a door that’s held open and removing its energy source to power another that lies between you and the exit. Then the number of doors increases while your supply of orbs shrinks. Some orbs reside within cubes that must be transported manually to their destination. It’s only really this physical element that would seem to disallow machines from taking part; otherwise these all appear to be single-solution logic problems. The most efficient option tends to be the only one.
This central mechanic features to the end, but as you pass from one area to the next, it’s steadily accompanied by more new elements. Purple and green orbs lack the consistent power of their blue counterparts, flicking on and off – though that makes them ideal for objects you don’t necessarily want to remain in place. Reds, meanwhile, lack staying power, supplying just enough energy for you to cross a light bridge, perhaps, but running out of juice within seconds of you reaching the other side. There are levers to move giant magnets and reposition walkways, pressure plates to weigh down, and beams of light controlling hydraulic platforms whose path you may need to temporarily obstruct. To this end and more, you’ll later be able to interface with a robot ally and CCTV cameras – as long as you maintain an unbroken line of sight – both of which can trigger electronic switches that can’t be manually activated.
But wait, weren’t these tests designed for human brains? We appear to have been misled. Then again, that’s kind of the point: EMT no longer seems such a functional name when you consider the wider meaning of that M. From the outset it’s clear your mission was never likely to be straightforward. As astronaut Ava Turing investigates an ISA research facility on Jupiter’s moon of Europa, ostensibly to look for its missing occupants, the warning signs are obvious as soon as you touch down. Take, for example, your seemingly friendly AI guide, Tom. He is courteous and polite as he and Ava converse between each puzzle room, but a couple of hours in you’re already half expecting him to break into Daisy, Daisy. In truth, the hints of a quiet, underlying malevolence come a little too soon, but your unease grows as you listen in to audio logs of earlier exchanges between Tom and the ISA crew. There’s something simultaneously childish and chilling as Tom concludes an argument by saying, “You’re not better than me,” even though his argument is rooted in the logic of his programming. “It is not a threat,” he insists in another, in a way that deeply implies the opposite.
Even so, the story doesn’t quite go where you’re expecting and the weighty philosophical, ethical and moral quandaries that come into play as the real reason for your mission crystallises are intelligently handled. If occasionally it feels as if you’re being lectured by a student majoring in thought experiments, and the dialogue is too on-the-nose, there are passages that resonate – notably an observation about the controlling influence of social stimuli on our decision-making. And while you’ll have an idea of the story’s destination well before it gets there, the writers confound expectations in the game’s climactic moments, leading players to assume they’ll be forced to make a final choice, before replacing it with another. Its ambiguities raise a number of questions, not least in inviting you to consider your own role. Who, exactly, is in control here? There’s plenty to think about, then, but the more you do, the wider the cracks grow in its austere façade. Tom, we’re told, can’t solve these puzzles, because he’s not permitted to think laterally. And yet rarely are you given the opportunity to consider a conundrum from a creative new angle. Only once, in the later stages, are you called to react against the game’s conditioning, to think about an object in a different way to solve an outwardly simplistic stumper. And on a foundational level, the fact ten of these rooms lie between each area of the facility is one leap of logic that’s never resolved: it’s like negotiating the most ludicrously extended and convoluted security procedure ever devised.
That’s symptomatic of a wider disconnect between systems and story. As a two-hander involving a test subject and an enigmatic AI, it’s difficult not to draw comparisons with Portal. Valve’s game found a way to embed its narrative within the walls of its challenges; here, conversations between Tom and Ava stop and only restart once a sector is completed, with a late-game barrage of audio logs to fill in the gaps. Longer, more elaborate tests kill the pacing, too – just as the truth seems to be getting closer, you’re forced to spend 20 minutes in a single room, solving a slightly more complex variation on the kind of puzzle you’ve been tackling for several hours. There’s promise in The Turing Test’s constituent parts, but considered as a whole, it fails the imitation game.
He is courteous and polite, but a couple of hours in you’re already half expecting him to break into Daisy, Daisy