Too Long; Didn't Play: The Talos Principle

Sponsored By: Manach

Time Pondered: 106 Minutes

Artificial Review

What do you do when you hate the lack of player agency in games but don’t want to try to fix the problem?

You make a puzzle game that points out that there is no player agency in games.

Intelligence Review

I’d like to have a word with Ken Levine. After Bioshock rocked everybody’s socks with its momentous reveal and mediocre boss fights, the subject of player agency became a hot topic. Finally, gamers had a place to go for black Hello Kitty sneakers with hot-pink shoelaces and gigantic wallets with chains on them.

No. Sorry. I was thinking of a different Hot Topic.

Bioshock got everyone talking about player agency in video games, and how it doesn’t actually exist. Because the game industry is ten-percent innovation and ninety-percent bandwagon-jumpers, this led to a slew of games that pointed out that players have no agency in video games.

There’s nothing inherently wrong with that. Imitation is one of the ways you can tell your idea was good in the first place. That’s why copyright laws exist.

The difficulty comes from overexposure, which is a bad thing because it leads to things like blistering sunburns and frostbite, though usually not at the same time. Overexposure also has the risk of making people fed-up with a concept.

I think I’m at that point. Yes, The Talos Principle. Well done. You’ve made a game about artificial intelligence that questions whether the player is an artificially intelligent rat running a maze.

And then you think you’re being clever by using reverse psychology! “Don’t go do this thing which is the obvious point of the game,” says the ethereal voice over a bangin’ (and, presumably, Olufsen’) PA system. I got news for you, The Talos Principle: Duke Nukem Forever did that same thing back in 2011. The President of the United States tells Duke over and over again not to fight the aliens. You know what Duke does? He fights the aliens.

There was no player agency in Duke Nukem Forever either, but at least they didn’t make me read facile essays about Greek philosophy between killing aliens.

It’s almost enough to make me want to listen to that ethereal voice and just uninstall the game, but if I weren't able to overlook hackneyed writing, I wouldn’t be able to play any games at all, and I certainly wouldn’t be able to write about them. The actual gameplay is exquisite. Somehow, the fine folks at Croteam (!) have managed to take the principle of the slider puzzle and apply it to three dimensional puzzles involving turrets and seeker-mines.

Let me cite an example, because I remember taking a 100-level philosophy course (much like the people who wrote the flavor text for this game), and those professors always liked examples and footnotes. Most of the puzzles involve some sort of tool that’s squirreled away in the environment for you to find and use, such as the electronic jammer that freezes turrets and seeker mines, and also disrupts force-fields that may be blocking your path. There are a number of puzzles that require you to bypass more force fields than you have jammers. I won't give away the solution, but it should be familiar to anyone who’s solved one of those little slider puzzles that have fifteen squares on a square grid that’s four tiles wide on each side.

You’ll get more tools as you progress in the game, though I will admit to a little bit of confusion regarding where to actually get those tools. I'm solving puzzles left and right, but throw something in plain sight and I apparently lose the ability to see it. Honestly, the time spent running around failing to notice things probably contributed to my over-exposed feeling.

I love the structure of the game, wherein you collect pieces of the puzzles that unlock more advanced parts of the game. It's a great way to make the world feel more open than it actually is, and the cleverness of the level and puzzle design only serve to highlight the triteness of the “WHAT IS HUMAN?” storyline that they keep beating you about the keyboard with.

Anyway, The Talos Principle has a lot of good stuff going on. If you ignore the terminals you can have a great time.

Am I compelled to keep playing, or do I keep playing because I want to? What’s the difference?

I’ll probably keep at it for a while. At just over a hundred minutes in, the puzzles are still interesting and challenging without being obnoxious. I’d say I’ll stick with it about as long as it takes me to start alt-tabbing to YouTube for walkthroughs.

Oh, and by the way: This paragraph you’re reading right now? It replaced about three hundred words of complaining about the fact that nobody bothers to write walkthrough FAQs anymore. Consider that redaction my little gift to you all.

What is a soul? What makes it dark? Does The Talos Principle have either of those things?

I’ve played many a puzzle game in my life as a videogame player. Most of them have learning curves that look like brick walls, which is not coincidentally the exact thing I feel like beating my head up against when I encounter the difficulty spikes. So far the most difficult “puzzle” in The Talos Principle was running around the world for ten minutes until I decided to ask someone for directions to the tool cabinet.

In other words, no it’s not the Dark Souls of puzzle games. If it were, my playtime would be much shorter and this review would be quite different indeed.

Three out of twenty seven flask thingies.

Comments

This reminds me that I own this. I've been waiting for a puzzle craving which has not arrived. On the pile it shall remain.

Also, I similarly miss written walkthroughs. So much better. A lost talent amongst amateur video maker's in this age of bombast and branding.

There was no player agency in Duke Nukem Forever either, but at least they didn’t make me read facile essays about Greek philosophy between killing aliens.

You, sir, are a master of of bringing in references to Duke. I am honestly amazed you found a way to slam a puzzle game with DNF. I shouldn't be shocked, but I am, so to you I say:

IMAGE(https://media.tenor.com/images/5d8e4e2ed4753ff3105e7e95e32b7b7d/tenor.gif)

This reminds me that I own this. I've been waiting for a puzzle craving which has not arrived. On the pile it shall remain.

Well I hope this doesn't steer anyone away from trying this game. All I can say is that The Talos Principle doesn't really tip its hand either in the complexity of the puzzles or stories for a little while and judging it on an hour of wandering may not really serve it well.

FWIW I would love to read your mini rant on walkthroughs.

imbiginjapan wrote:

Well I hope this doesn't steer anyone away from trying this game. All I can say is that The Talos Principle doesn't really tip its hand either in the complexity of the puzzles or stories for a little while and judging it on an hour of wandering may not really serve it well.

I agree but...

I was excited for this based on reviews, but then bounced off after an hour or two - but not to the point of deleting it. I kept thinking about it so I came back and sunk 6-10 more hours into it and enjoyed it a lot. I had to look up hints every so often, but that doesn't bother me. I'll put the remainder of my thoughts in spoilers just in case...

Spoiler:

After about 10 hours, it opened up more and I saw how long it really was: 20-30 hours!! The environments are cool and the puzzles are mostly clever without being obtuse (although I did swear at the game for the one that uses a piece from a DIFFERENT puzzle). But 20+ hours for a puzzle game seems awfully long to me - and that's not including the extra 5+ hours for Road To Gehenna DLC. I like where they are going with the story bits - what does it mean to be human, conscious, etc - but I'm just not sure it is worth sticking around that long.

I actually just started playing this over the weekend, oddly enough.

I had started playing The Turing Test, which was in a recent Humble Monthly, and when I quit out of it at one point noticed a review commenting that in a world without Portal or the Talos Principle, this might be a compelling game, but in a world without those games this game wouldn't exist. (More or less.) I hadn't tried Talos Principle, but it was in my Steam library, so...

I haven't gone back to Turing Test yet. Just got into World B and am about to unlock the second new device there. Problem I'm running into is that, even with the anti-motion-sickness stuff set to max, it's exactly the sort of game that exacerbates motion sickness in me. (Lots of running around without fighting.)

Oh, and: entirely agreed about text walkthroughs.

Regarding the cat

Spoiler:

You can totally find the cat.

imbiginjapan wrote:

FWIW I would love to read your mini rant on walkthroughs.

Ooh! A request! I love requests!

I'll see what I can do with that.

kazrak wrote:

I haven't gone back to Turing Test yet. Just got into World B and am about to unlock the second new device there. Problem I'm running into is that, even with the anti-motion-sickness stuff set to max, it's exactly the sort of game that exacerbates motion sickness in me. (Lots of running around without fighting.)

In focusing on the abstract I totally forgot I had that problem too. This and the Witness both got me queasy from time to time. Meniere's disease runs in the family though. It makes me concerned for a hypothetical world where VR really does take off, I'm not sure if I could game much.

Anyway, The Talos Principle has a lot of good stuff going on. If you ignore the terminals you can have a great time.

*twitch*

*twitch*

To everyone else: please play the game and read the terminals. The Talos Principle tells a delightful, thought-provoking story about humanity, philosophy, cataclysm, and the nature of the soul. The puzzles and gameplay are excellent, but the tale is extraordinary.

Archangel wrote:
Anyway, The Talos Principle has a lot of good stuff going on. If you ignore the terminals you can have a great time.

*twitch*

*twitch*

To everyone else: please play the game and read the terminals. The Talos Principle tells a delightful, thought-provoking story about humanity, philosophy, cataclysm, and the nature of the soul. The puzzles and gameplay are excellent, but the tale is extraordinary.

Found the Philosophy minor.

BadKen wrote:
Archangel wrote:
Anyway, The Talos Principle has a lot of good stuff going on. If you ignore the terminals you can have a great time.

*twitch*

*twitch*

To everyone else: please play the game and read the terminals. The Talos Principle tells a delightful, thought-provoking story about humanity, philosophy, cataclysm, and the nature of the soul. The puzzles and gameplay are excellent, but the tale is extraordinary.

Found the Philosophy minor.

I wouldn't be surprised if there were worthwhile content in there that took more than 106 minutes to really gain traction. There are a lot of benefits to the TL;DP format, but slow building of a theme doesn't hit the radar in that much time.

I don't envy anyone trying to do real, interesting philosophy or any sort of applied critical-theory work in the mass-market space, especially pop media like games. There's a lot of work that needs to be done up front just to make sure the audience is ready to "play at your level", given the wide range of audience experiences with even a term like "philosophy." For every crunchy Hegelian out there, there are probably dozens or hundreds who stop at one or two works of philosophical fiction, or read half of an Ayn Rand novel, and for each of those, there are still many more who map "philosophy" to "aphorisms, chiefly shared via bumper stickers or reposts of images on social media."

Absolutely excellent points as usual, wordsmythe; thanks for pointing all that out.

I guess all I really wanted to say was that the story in The Talos Principle is considered by most reviewers to be very clever and imaginative, and that I was charmed by it. No philosophical dissertation required, honest!

Archangel wrote:

No philosophical dissertation required, honest!

Well, now I've lost interest.