The gaming world is a vast industry covering a myriad of interests and a range of different types of players. There are those ideas that are simpler to market, easy best-sellers, and others that are less prominent, that have a narrower target audience. There is a section of the industry advocating that learning and video games needn't be at odds with each other. The Talos Principle goes a step further than this, and offers an experience that invites the player to reflect on some thought provoking issues.
There are some who may react negatively to this approach, but those who approach the game with an open mind and are willing to embrace the intensity of the experience - both intellectually and mechanically - will find great satisfaction here. But, what is The Talos Principle about?
Croteam's philosophical puzzler is played out entirely in the first-person. After waking up among what looks to be Greek ruins, we hear a voice. This voice claims to have created us, and is to be called Elohim (God or gods, in Hebrew). Elohim says we are free to alter the world, while his servants will test us so we learn and develop. He only puts one limitation on our freedom: we must not step on the huge tower located in the centre of his realm, because if that happens we will die without recourse.
After this biblical introduction, Elohim lets us explore the world freely, though it doesn't take long until we notice one thing, our protagonist remains an enigma. Suddenly, between two Corinthian columns we can see a computer. By interacting with this terminal we, for the first time, notice the robotic arms of our character. A robot! From this moment on the mood and atmosphere of the game is set. The computer lets us ask it questions, such as "what am I?" or "why am I here?".
Knowing so little about our own nature makes us want to talk to the computer, unlocking secrets about the world and our own identity. Soon enough questions will arise where the CPU tests the ability of our robot to think like a human, by posing moral dilemmas in which the player must choose between several answers where the morality is questionable to different degrees. We end up researching archives that in turn makes us reflect on the condition of the protagonist and also on classical themes in other science fiction works such as Virtue's Last Reward or Artificial Intelligence: "What differentiates a human from a perfect android? Should these androids be treated with all the privileges associated with being a person, or are they mere instruments? What right does humanity have to be the proud creator of artificial life?"
That said, not everything involves talking to a computer. There are many puzzles that push our android self to explore and discover more about the world around us, as well as put our grey matter to the test. Among the many different puzzle types we have to use different tools to disable hostile machines (conveniently placed by Elohim so we may prove our worth), or reflect light beams to open doors. The difficulty level of each puzzle is flagged by a specific colour, and the reward for completion is a piece that can be placed in a panel which when filled opens a door into another world. You're free to choose how and when to tackle each puzzle, and which door to go through to explore, at least most of the time.
This is one of the greatest strengths of The Talos Principle. This is a game that treats each player as a fully cognitive adult. There are no superfluous tutorials, there's no objective marker to guide us like lost sheep in need of help. As Elohim said, this is a world created for us to explore, discover and transform, and it is our choice how to do it and at what pace.
Our lack of knowledge about the world and our own identity offers a strong incentive to explore and discover more, to solve puzzles and open doors, as well as find the various terminals that offer us new perspectives on questions regarding our existence and identity. A player with a curious mind and a desire to learn more will no doubt enjoy unraveling the secrets of The Talos Principle.
With regard to its technical aspects, the visuals are somewhat mediocre and not fully optimised as yet (although the game will be updated as the studio hopes to solve these problems quickly). The music is fairly simple, yet it's effective in creating a suitable atmosphere and it doesn't distract the player. The controls are responsive and extremely simple, using only movement keys and the mouse for almost the entire game.
The Talos Principle requires between 15 and 20 hours of play time in order to reach each of its endings; Elohim offers us different outcomes. It's such a different game that it could draw the odd skeptical glance, but puzzle lovers or intellectually hungry minds are being offered a wonderful opportunity to reflect on morality, identity and artificial intelligence.