The Turing Test, developed by Bulkhead Interactive, opens much like an Alien film - you wake up from a slumber, you are given the task of finding a crew who are unresponsive and an artificial intelligence called Tom guides you through it all. You are thrown into it as you wake up and told to get your gear and get to the docking station. Within ten minutes of starting the game you are on Europa where the crew stopped responding and the mystery unfolds from there. Despite how reminiscent the game is of Alien, however, the gameplay is more akin to Portal, except far less gripping in its execution.
You play as Ava Turing in the game and you progress by doing a variety of the titular Turing Tests - tasks that can only be completed by humans - and these involve using an Energy Manipulation Tool to take power from one thing and switch it to another. The use of a gun in first person perspective, the sterile white nature of the surroundings and the isolation of the protagonist all make this feel like Portal, but the puzzles aren't nearly as fun to play nor does the game have the same level of personality.
For a start, the puzzles are difficult, but by no means unique. Switching power in and out of things does make you think deeply about what you need to do to progress and what needs to be switched where but this formula once repeated a few times feels a bit dull. From what we played to preview the level of difficulty changed, but the actual task given to do didn't change all that much. For those looking for a challenge it will probably suit the purpose as multiple levels left us scratching our heads.
The narrative sections in between (or occasionally in the middle of) puzzle rooms were executed much better. There is a mystery about what happened to the missing people, who you are as a protagonist and who you are as a human too. Bulkhead Interactive has made no secret of the fact that The Turing Test is about humanity, what it means to be human and the human experience and it will be interesting to see where they take this in the finished game. From the glimpses of narrative we have seen, there is potential there, but whether it is fulfilled or not remains to be seen. Perhaps a little more work could be done on the relationship between Ava and Tom, but for the most part it remained interesting if not a little dry.
The Turing Test also features neat presentation. The music behind the game is subtle enough to avoid being grating and noticeable enough that it makes the experience just that little bit more beautiful since the gentle piano notes compliment the calm pacing of the game. Ava and Tom are both softly spoken and the narrative reveals itself gradually, the music doing everything to keep the pacing at this level throughout.
Visually the game is good, but not revolutionary. The white futuristic surfaces have been done many times, as has the snowy planets (Interstellar came to mind when playing) and so the whole game brings other media to mind rather than leaving its own impression. This isn't to say it's bad - the environments look great and it plays well, but it just isn't anything to blow the player away.
Although they weren't ruinous to the experience, there were a few annoying aspects of the game we encountered. For a start, even on full brightness the game was exceedingly dark and the lack of lighting and/or a torch meant that basic tasks became frustrating. The physics sometimes played up as well - walking into a box (like those in Portal) often meant it would fly off into the distance, for example. Loading screens were often unbearably slow, too, sometimes being 10-15 minutes each. It is, however, the sort of optimisation that tends to occur in the final stages of development, so hopefully that will be sorted once the game is out proper.
Level design, though, has to be complimented. Bulkhead Interactive have put a lot of thought into each space and how the puzzle will unfold in order to do that marvellous thing that puzzle games do which is leave you intimidated and confused when entering a new level. Once you think about where the power sources are in relation to one another, though, that's when the pieces fit together and progress can happen.
In short, the interesting narrative aims and questions the game raises are bogged down heavily by boring puzzles which repeat a similar formula. Challenge doesn't always equal quality in a puzzle game and we found ourselves groaning that there was another level rather than rejoicing that we had completed one. Puzzles are a core part of this game and if they aren't engaging then maybe the narrative can only do so much to compensate. Watch this space for a full review as the game launches later this month.