Although it never truly went away, the first person puzzle genre grew in prominence thanks to Portal, a hilarious and smart game from Valve that is now largely regarded as a classic. Already award-winning, The Talos Principle from Croteam takes more than few cues from Valve’s innovative puzzler, but also blends elements of games from the “walking simulator” genre like Gone Home or The Vanishing of Ethan Carter, encouraging players to explore the environment while solving a multitude of puzzles.
The story in The Talos Principle is told through a few scenes but mainly through reading files and interacting with the computers that can be found in each level. These files range from excerpts of Greek literature to personal diaries of important characters that help shape the narrative. This kind of storytelling is effective for atmosphere, but there are far too many files to read. Virtually every level has a new batch of files to sift through, and not all of them are interesting; more than a few are too long, and some aren’t even important to the overall plot.
In the meantime, chatting with the computer is amusing, and it’s where a great deal of The Talos Principle‘s philosophical elements comes into play. Besides reading files on the computer, the player is able to converse with it, and it takes the player to task on a variety of subjects, from philosophy and morality. These little conversations are a highlight of The Talos Principle‘s storytelling, and the questions posed truly get the mind working.
The Talos Principle is no doubt a game for the thinking gamer, starting first with the story and extending to the first-person puzzle gameplay. Players tackle various puzzles, using tools such as laser connectors, jamming devices, cubes, and more to find the solutions. By solving these puzzles, players are rewarded with sigils, which are then used to solve Tetris-like puzzles on door locks to open new areas.
The Talos Principle is loaded with hidden areas to discover, and no shortage of puzzles to solve. However, this bevy of content actually works against the game at times, with some of the puzzle solutions feeling too similar to others. Furthermore, the reward for solving the puzzles (besides advancement in the plot, which happens very incrementally) are sigils virtually every time. This creates a reward loop of solving puzzles, obtaining a sigil, opening a door, and then collecting more sigils, which doesn’t instill much of a sense of accomplishment.
Another issue with the puzzles is that some of the longer ones are far more frustrating than they are fun, with one wrong move forcing players back to the start. When that happens due to death, it’s understandable, but there was one time when, near the end of a very lengthy puzzle, an important cube somehow got stuck on a high ledge, making it impossible to complete without resetting the entire puzzle. While the game’s unmistakable level of polish makes issues like these virtually a non-factor compared to lesser games in the genre, when it does happen, it’s extremely disheartening.
Issues aside, The Talos Principle certainly has no shortage of puzzles, as stated earlier. That’s especially true for the PlayStation 4 version of the game, which comes bundled with the Road to Gehenna expansion. The Road to Gehenna expansion offers some of the more challenging puzzles that the experience has to offer, and is reserved more for those that played and mastered the main game. The story in the Road to Gehenna expansion is not as strong as the plot in the main game, so there’s a less satisfying sense of discovery, but the added challenge from the puzzles helps to make up for that.
The Talos Principle is a fun puzzle game that also makes some strong philosophical points. The puzzles can sometimes be frustrating and the heavy amount of text to read in the files can bog down the pace, but it’s still a memorable adventure that players will undoubtedly want to discuss and dissect with their friends. PS4 players should be excited to finally have the chance to see why The Talos Principle is considered one of the best indie puzzle games in recent years.
The Talos Principle and the Road to Gehenna expansion will release for the PlayStation 4 on October 13th. It’s already available for PC as well as Android mobile devices. Game Rant was provided a PS4 code for this review.