The Talos Principle is a fantastic presentation of art, thought and design. While the narrative is far-reaching and rather ambitious, it works because the delivery is straightforward and logical, and is a complementary fit for the logic-puzzle gameplay and exploration. There are no ground-breaking gameplay mechanics akin to Portal’s gun, but The Talos Principle perfectly utilises what mechanics are offered. Within the recent landscape of rather disappointing attempts at innovation and immersion in video games, I’m proud to claim that The Talos Principle is the best game I’ve played in recent memory, and it ticks all my boxes. There’s no jokes or jabs right here, it’s just straight-up good.
As an AI birthed into the ruins of an ancient civilisation the player is directed through sublime, lush environments by an omniscient voice, introduced as Elohim (hint: Elohim is the Hebrew word for ‘god’. You’re welcome.). Elohim explains that these temple gardens – and the encompassing worlds – have been created for you to conquer and “subdue”. He enforces the significance of sacred sigils stashed through these temples; only by collecting these may you unlock the path to eternal life. But through your travels, you are not to step foot into the great tower for if you do, “you will surely die.” Someone takes their job very seriously.
This overt adaptation of the Garden of Eden, Adam and God in the Abrahamic religions rings relevant through the game. The serpent in this case is a mysterious text-based persona that initiates dialogue with the protagonist through consoles dropped into every level, spurring conversations on humanity, consciousness and purpose, while being sure to point out flaws in your thinking. Each of these consoles contains two or three texts, which range from philosophical exploration of consciousness to menial chat logs. Some of these allude to off-screen events, while others proffer themes and concepts that correlate to your current situation. What this means is that as you progress, you’re given neat packages of narrative that lend themselves to a very big picture. Those moments when you pick up on a prevailing theme are as satisfying as solving red-sigil puzzles, a feat that must have required fantastic co-operation between game design, writing, and development.
The difficulty of each puzzle is clearly communicated upon entry; green sigils are significantly easier to obtain than yellow, with red sigils much harder again. Levels for green sigils feel more like tutorials to ease you into the mindset, while red sigil puzzles are where the real struggle can be met. These hardest levels are when the game feels like it has really started, with the earliest levels being rather easy to storm through. The environments in every stage are phenomenal, so it is a bit of a shame that some may breeze on through these early levels. The decision to include areas that are not integral to the puzzle-completing process is much appreciated by this reviewer; playing The Talos Principle, I find myself naturally plotting along, completing puzzles, engaging in the plot and admiring the architecture, without each of these elements feeling distinct. This game is one blended experience.
One design element I love is that much of the story is optional; if you want to smash through the puzzles because that alone is your thing, you can totally do that. But if you’re attracted to the QR codes painted across Egyptian temple walls, and interested in the persistent characters that wrote them, there is this whole world of life, confusion and pain that will haunt and delight you. Some players will be turned off by the amount of text offered, but even omitting the narrative, The Talos Principle delivers solid and rewarding puzzling in an environment of beautiful architecture and mild spookiness. The sound and art direction are spot-on, and the variety in environments keeps everything feeling fresh.
The visual direction is great in this title, with natural sensations of weather and daylight, while the graphical quality has the chance to drop at times. A major point in favour of immersion is the lack of in-game loading screens, but the trade-off is a drop in performance and appearance of pop-in graphics in later levels, when the console must be juggling most of the game’s assets at once. The frequent and deliberate “glitch in the matrix” style cracking and fading of graphics feels almost like an attempt to cover this up, and can be a little off-putting at times. The quality of background textures varies quite a lot, with beautiful snowscapes in the distance, which outshine lacklustre mountains and beaches. Croteam have developed a hella-immersive world despite these imperfections, and if they could have done any better I’d begin to worry they themselves were not human… Hey…
As The Talos Principle was first released last year on PC, players who have gone through that release will not find much in this re-release to warrant a second purchase, but those puzzle fans who missed it the first time around, such as myself, are nigh guaranteed to enjoy this title. This Deluxe Edition PS4 re-release includes the Road to Gehanna DLC, an enhanced difficulty experience with its own story, providing a neat add-on bonus.
It seems that most games driven by narratives as abstract and philosophical as in The Talos Principle face a hard practical choice in delivering the release; to cut the length and ease back on the amount of content while maintaining the quality of that content, or to cut corners and release a full-length but half-baked title. This may be because the only development teams willing to take the financial risk on something outside of the mainstream market are typically independents with resources too limited for that level of work. In any case, The Talos Principle presents a dense, multi-faceted narrative in an immersive, genuinely intriguing world, without compromising on any other element.
Select Start Media was provided with a copy of The Talos Principle (Deluxe Edition) by Devolver Digital.
The Talos Principle is available as of today from the PlayStation Store.