I like kittens. Humans like kittens. Therefore I am Human.
People have in the past compared this game to Portal. As a first person puzzle game where you are guided by a snarky voice from above with the desire of nothing less than seeing you suffer, you can see some similar elements. I don’t think that it is a fair point of reference though.
While there are some striking similarities between the two games, I don’t think that it tells the whole story. Portal’s puzzles are unique; the game has a novel mechanic which it uses in many very clever ways. The Talos Principle on the other hand does not. Portal is funny, Talos is not.
What this game lacks in humour it makes up for in depth. The Talos Principle is a game that is far more philosophical than other similar games. While there is a voice in the sky that tries to command you, to keep you down, (similar in some respects to GLaDOS) planted there are also a wide number of computer terminals throughout the world which will have you exploring the meaning of being a person. At times these discussions turn dark, but it aims to create a more fundamental understanding of life. What is it to be alive, to be human?
While the player quickly learns (through glitches) that they are trapped within some form of simulation, the consequences of knowing this is largely unknown. Is your aim to leave the world? Is it even safe to leave the simulation? What are you outside the simulation?
These are all questions that are fired at the player while they navigate the world. It is in discussions with the numerous computer terminals that I think the game really shines. It shows a depth that is beyond many philosophical games. The frank nature of the conversation makes you open up and consider aspects of life that you may not have already considered.
I find that it is lack of comedy that gives this game strength. Many games have taken a more lackadaisical rout of late, and of those games that tended towards a more serious style, the general formula to just add more guns and more grey. While there have been games like This War of Mine or Beyond Eyes which try to explore a new facet of human experience, very few games have chosen to explore these emotional and philosophical depths in the manner of The Talos Principle.
While I find that this game does a great job in exploring elements of the human psyche, the vanilla gameplay experience is something else altogether. I wish that I was able to say that the puzzles within this game were as great as its discussion on life, but they are just not. This is the weakest link in this game by far.
The player starts this game searching for blocks which resemble Tetris pieces. Each block is secured behind a puzzle, and these puzzles are droll. Initially the game has the player completing simple tasks like moving boxes onto pressure plates. They then go on to add jammers (which disable certain map features), laser redirection sticks, fans and recording clones.
Individually none of these are unique. They are all elements that have been used in countless other puzzle games. While they have been used well… I didn’t find it anything special. The progression of difficulty though the puzzles is also quite smooth. There were more than a couple of cases, however, where the game missed a few beats. While the tools for most puzzles were always quite clear, it was not uncommon for the game to require the use of a new, otherwise unexpected, interaction. Unfortunately it is the nature of the level design that makes these kind of stumbles almost inevitable.
When the player has accumulated enough blocks they use them to progress the story. They unlock tools, they unlock rooms, and they unlock secrets. Actually unlocking things is a little more challenging than just owning the pieces. You must place all the pieces into an X x Y grid and only when everything fits snugly will the barrier drop.
This game is pretty. As you advance through the different stages you will see Rome, Egypt and Norman architecture. Even though these periods play little role in the development of the story (they are referenced in snippets presented to the players) they are a breathe of fresh air in an otherwise repetitive puzzling world.
This game is quite generous when it comes to settings you can play with. They have included a nice range of settings for those of us who have more delicate eye. FOV adjusters are included, alongside first or third person modes, choice of shoulder, graphics quality, volume mixers and sliders for more things that I would care to count. Croteam has been very thorough through their development and must be applauded in their efforts.
However, I have trouble recommending this game to everyone. It is a true achievement in the success it has exploring the human psychology. It is extremely pretty and on the whole well paced. Unfortunately the puzzles are just uninspired and repetitive compared to other puzzles games.
If you are into games which come with more intellectual analysis, this game will draw you in. If you are willing to read and enjoy the setting, you will enjoy this. But, do not get The Talos Principle if you just want to puzzle, it will only disappoint you.