THE TALOS PRINCIPLE
Testing your mental faculties in more ways than you thought
“It’s a strange but somehow relaxing experience”
At first glance this is a nifty puzzle game where you play as a robot, but thanks to some godly voices and peculiar hidden stories in terminals you’ll soon start questioning everything you think you know. The Talos Principle has far more going on than first appears. It’s been out on other consoles and PC for a while now, but it’s finally come to Xbox One with the DLC thrown in for free as an added bonus.
You’re an AI navigating a virtual space after humanity has died out due to a disease who is being tested to see if you’re ready to join the real world and continue humanity’s lost legacy. Between solving puzzles involving lasers, locked gates and aggressive droids you’ll be faced with philosophical questioning making you aware of your role in this bizarre world to the point where you’re unsure of how much free will you actually have.
This testing program takes the form of some beautiful abandoned Greek island full of crumbling ruins, but expands out to snowy fields and picturesque deserts. It’s an odd setting for sci-fi testing contraptions and computer terminals but it works. The puzzles themselves are difficult enough to be challenging, but thankfully not obtuse enough to feel unfair. Elements gradually layer on top of each other so the difficulty ramps up over time. You start with some simple laser positioning to open gates, but soon you’ll be guiding droids through them to avoid them or tricking turrets into attacking them to avoid their ire.
Occasionally we did find ourselves frustrated at not being able to solve something, but vanishing to try something else is often the answer – other puzzles might give you a gentle poke on how to solve something you were struggling with before. You’re open to tackle things in any order you wish so it’s in your best interests to explore what else is out there. Especially the mysterious tower at the centre of this world, and the computer terminals dotted around containing snippets of lore that hint at how the world crumbled.
The story does get a bit much at times: full of existential questions about your freedom of choice and role in this world, it can feel a bit preachy – like it’s trying too hard. It feels like a slightly odd companion to all of the excellent puzzling – it’s two different kinds of mental taxation butting heads with each other as each vies for your attention. The delving into a lost civilisation and core concepts of being tested make for a solid backdrop, but when things start to go deeper it all feels a bit superficial – like a philosophy student trying too hard to impress you in a bar.
Thankfully it doesn’t distract from the puzzling too much – you could quite happily ignore it all in your quest to find Tetris-like blocks to unlock even more brain teasers. The last section does get rather tedious though, forcing you to engage more with the story and a lot of those bits will be lost on you if you haven’t spent many hours poking around the computers beforehand.
It’s a strange but somehow relaxing experience and makes for a nice palette cleanser before the onslaught of action games in the run-up to Christmas. If you’re looking for something to stretch your brain muscles a bit then this will certainly fit the bill, even if does make you raise a few sceptical eyebrows over some of its philosophical offerings.