In ancient Greek mythos, a man made of bronze was forged to protect Princess Europa on the island of Crete. Named Talos, he exhibited all the behaviors of a human, though he was not made of flesh and blood. Composed differently, would you still consider him to be a conscious, living being?
The Talos Principle is a first-person puzzle platformer that raised this very question, guiding players to the possibilities of what it means to be human. Not only does it force you to rationalize, it allows you to consider your own belief system or convince you otherwise.
This is still just a game, but it could change your life.
The Talos Principle’s story is essentially a playable thought experiment. Other than philosophy, it contains historical and mythological content to help make its ideas more digestible.
You awaken as an Android in ancient Greece, surrounded by crumbling, archaic structures. A voice from the heavens speaks to you, claiming to be Elohim (Hebrew for God) and offers a path toward salvation. As quickly as you encounter God himself, you begin to find terminals that contain an entity named Milton. Milton has all of human history archived and prods you to consider life and consciousness, in turn, attempting to steer you away from Elohim’s plan. But it takes time to decide to defy Elohim or not. You explore ancient Egypt and what seems to be the middle Ages or the near Renaissance era - all of which are devoid of mobile life. Elohim warns you not to defy him by saying you should not go up the ominous tower - the final world you can possibly visit. By this point, you must decide what your fate is in order to become fully aware of your purpose.
The worlds depict the thinking of those times and the ideas of life and death; morality and consciousness. The sense of progress and proving one’s self is a feeling that you would never expect from a video game. The choices you make at the end is not wholly dependent on the dialogue you have with the key characters in the game, so that was a bit of a letdown. But you will later have the option to explore the other endings without starting the game all over again, which is a perk.
Talos, developed by Croteam who also created the Serious Sam series, runs on the Serious engine. The visuals are stunning, and it runs well on maximum settings for at least mid-tier gaming PCs. The story, written by Tom Jubert of FTL and the Swapper, and Jonas Kyratzes of the Infinite Ocean, is of utmost importance in the entirety of the game. The two often focus heavily on existentialism and consciousness but went on a whole different level for Talos.
As a first-person puzzle platformer, the mechanics are intuitive, yet the puzzles can be quite challenging. Similar to Portal and Portal 2, Talos relies on tools to help the player solve a puzzle. The objective is to collect tetrominoes, called sigils, at the end of each puzzle to move forward in the game. The game starts you off with a “jammer” that blocks force-field gates, turrets, hovering mines and much more. As the game progresses, items such as light-beam benders, recording modules, fans and eerily similar blocks that summon nostalgia for Portal’s Companion Cube, offer a unique arsenal for the overall puzzle-solving basis of the game. The difficulty of the gameplay is important because the game forces players to be creative and wholeheartedly analyze situations.
The puzzles actually do not rely on the story or vice versa. The dialogue and points of interest occur outside the doors to the puzzles, which at first seems a bit unorthodox. Normally, it’s expected that the complexity of the puzzles would mesh with the complexity of the plot. It didn’t, so that was a bummer.
The soundtrack, composed by Damjan Mravunac, was absolutely fitting with the game. Mravunac composed and worked on previous soundtracks with Croteam for the Serious Sam series, but the Talos soundtrack adds even more depth to the game by matching up with each world and the puzzles. The general ambiance in terms of walking, running, swimming or the wind blowing was a nice touch to the overall serenity of the views and terrain. The “beep boops” of a nagging terminal help signify when the plot line moves forward so keep an ear out for those.
Talos has so many layers and offers a lot of time to ponder and navigate through the storyline and the gameplay. There are extra puzzles, where the objective is to gather stars rather than sigils. These are much harder and require a lot more creativity in solving them. By collecting the stars, another ending opens up. If you need a little help, there are extra levels with puzzles that will unlock helper Androids to solve tougher puzzles like those with stars. There are other fun gags, such as finding paint buckets and painting QR codes with a weird proverb of your choosing. If you have friends that played Talos, you can see their codes throughout the game as well. There are also tons of Easter Eggs that the developers left throughout the game, so have fun finding those gems. Croteam came out with DLC packs that are worth your attention as well. You can buy the soundtrack, the Serious DLC Pack and Road to Gehenna. The Serious DLC allows you to replace Elohim’s voice with the hilarious Serious Sam script and you can change your Android self to a buff Sam with slick sunglasses. Road to Gehenna is an extension to Talos with far more detail in the story. The DLC plays similarly to the original, but it is more of an open world in terms of solving puzzles.
The Talos Principle was an experience that may have changed my life. It made me more aware and critical, both as a gamer and as a person. The storyline was well thought out, and I found the puzzles to be timeless amusement. The graphics are lovely and scenic, and the score tops it off so well. If you’re the kind of person that needs a really tightly locked plot to the gameplay, you might not be too pleased, but Talos is still worth the time and effort to put in your all and gain a life-changing experience.