I’m not trying to put down other games I have played recently, but it’s hard to think of the last one that challenged me. I don’t mean that in regards to difficulty, because lord knows plenty of titles have done that. Rather, I’m struggling to think of something that has truly provided a thought-provoking experience. At the very least, I can’t think of a game that has challenged my way of thinking quite like The Talos Principle: Deluxe Edition did. Developed by Croteam (Serious Sam), the title, which comes to the PlayStation 4 following its PC release last year, gave me a major mental workout, while also making me question some long-held beliefs.
Borrowing elements from classics like Portal and Myst, The Talos Principle, to boil it down, is a first-person puzzler. After awakening in a lush and mysterious location, players are commanded by a booming voice to solve assorted puzzles in order to recover sigils, which are basically Tetris blocks. Different colored sigils are used in different ways. For example, green sigils open up new areas for you to explore, while yellow sigils unlock additional mechanisms. These new mechanics, such as the ability to make a recording of yourself and fans used to blow objects, are necessary in order to move forward.
I have to admit, I find it difficult to explain the puzzles found in any puzzle game without it sounding ridiculous, and The Talos Principle is no different. For a majority of the puzzles found in the title, you’ll be utilizing the different mechanics that are unlocked by collecting sigils. You begin with the jammer, which as you would expect, is used to jam doors, as well as sentry guns and drones. As you progress, you’ll begin to experiment with the different mechanics that open up to you. And once Croteam thinks you have your legs beneath you, then they begin to throw the truly crazy puzzles at you.
The different mechanics you come across serve as the backbone for the majority of the puzzles you have to solve. By themselves, solving a task by guiding colored lasers or stacking boxes is pretty easy to accomplish. However, it’s when Croteam begins putting all of these different abilities into one singular puzzle, that the true challenge begins. What starts off as a simple mental exercise, soon transforms into the type of devilish problem you have nightmares about. I certainly won’t forget having to make a recording of myself messing with objects, then having to accomplish a completely different task as the recording plays out, that’s for sure.
The amazing thing about The Talos Principle is, though, that despite how tough and frustrating some of these challenges may be, I never felt like I was being screwed over by them. In other similar titles, it can sometimes feel like the developer is making things more difficult than they should be, either through sloppy mechanics or cheap tactics. Here, though, every puzzle feels like it was extensively tested in order to make sure that it is challenging, but also fair. There are no tricks being pulled on you, as you can clearly see what you have to do. The real challenge comes from figuring out how to put that plan into place.
While the hardcore puzzles of the game initially drew me in, it was the intoxicating story that kept me coming back for more. Written by Jonas Kyratzes (Infinite Ocean) and Tom Jubert (The Swapper), the plot starts off fairly simple. You are a simple servant to the booming, God-like voice known as Elohim, and you will collect all of these sigils because he commands you to. Doing so, will let you obtain the gift of eternal life, provided you don’t venture to the mysterious tower that dominates the landscape of the world.
As you collect the sigils, though, you begin to speak with a secondary character via computers stationed throughout the game. This rogue A.I. begins to tell you not to trust Elohim, while also attempting to dig into just what you really are. You are clearly a robotic droid, but are you human? And if you think you are, why do you say so? What makes someone or something human? If you’re like me, the question of what makes something “human” will only push you further and further into the world crafted by Croteam.
Hearing from Elohim itself would theoretically drive the story of The Talos Principle forward, but in order to get the full tale, you’ll need to explore the world created for you. The aforementioned computers not only house the A.I., but also a vast library of texts, messages and passages. It is through these computers that you’ll realize something has happened to human civilization, as well as receive history lessons on ancient beings, which play into the storyline as well. It’s amazing to see how Croteam managed to bring together all of these seemingly different plot threads, though. I certainly wasn’t prepared for how they would tie together ancient passages, modern chatlogs and you’re puzzle solving adventure, but it is handled expertly here.
As this is the Deluxe Edition of the title, it comes packed with the recently released Road to Gehenna expansion pack. Much like the tale of the base game, I don’t really want to delve into the details of Gehenna, simply because to talk about it in depth would be spoiling it. Once you finish the base game, though, I fully endorse checking out this side-tale. It ties into the events seen in the main story, but provides a unique new perspective.
Croteam have drawn ancient designs and landscapes for the Serious Sam series before, so it’s not too surprising that they would return to that well for The Talos Principle. The world created by Elohim is not contained to one specific design, though, as one level may take place in an arid desert, while another could take you to a frozen tundra. There may not be a rhyme or reason for why such change happens so frequently, but it does help spice things up.
One of the interesting visual effects introduced over the course of the game, though, is the glitches and bugs that randomly pop up. Drawing upon the idea that this world may not be exactly what it appears to be, objects flicker and fade out, similar to how actual bugs invade programs. It helps drive the battle between whether you should trust the word of Elohim, or whether you should explore the forbidden tower. Plus, it could theoretically hide any actual graphical hiccups that could potentially be spotted.
If there’s one area where the title struggles, it’s in the performance on the PlayStation 4. I’m not familiar with how the game runs on PC (I’m assuming just fine), but lag tends to occur fairly frequently here. When you are by yourself, just doing your puzzle-solving thing, things are fine. It’s when any other type of action happens, such as the movement of an elevator or the appearance of a recording that it begins to slow down. It’s by no means a game-breaking bug, or even a real issue, but it would be remiss if I didn’t mention it.
A masterpiece from start to finish, The Talos Principle: Deluxe Edition is unlike anything else on the market. The ingeniously designed puzzles provided some of the biggest challenges, and triumphs, I have experienced in gaming in recent years. The puzzles alone would warrant playing the title, but it’s the faith-driven plotline that will hook most gamers in. By drawing upon powerful themes of humanity and what it means to truly be alive, it transcends more than just being a game. I would have never expected the team behind Serious Sam to create one the deepest, most affecting experiences in recent years, but I never imagined a game would make me question my own thoughts on humanity, either.
This review was based on the PlayStation 4 version of the game, which was provided to us.
The Talos Principle: Deluxe Edition is unlike anything else out there. The expertly crafted puzzles will give any gamer a mental workout, while the humanity-questioning storyline is the type of philosophical tale that has been sorely lacking in the current gaming landscape.