This one is no doubt going to be more brief than it deserves, and at the risk of spoilers, turn away.
I’ve been wanting to play the Talos Principle for an age, mostly because I wanted a good puzzle game to stretch against and this was the choice stuck firmly in my brain.
Much like the puzzle games that came before it, you slowly unlock incremental skills or objects to help you through the game, you’re essentially trained to solve the later puzzles as you play through, and some of those later puzzles? Definitely frustrating.
Not that they were hard, the hardest puzzles were ones which featured the replay machine (an unlocked item that allows you to record 5 minutes worth of action, essentially allowing you to Co-op with yourself) where a little off-timing or wrong position can leave you having to redo a minutes worth of actions, again not hard but frustrating when you realise you’re going to need to redo an area.
Plot-wise? You’re a robot, you awaken to a religious voice in the sky (Elohim) laying down the commandments and instructions, go find these runes (basically, tetris pieces), but NEVER ascend that conveniently located tower!
As you explore, a second “voice” (though this time it’s text on a screen) begins questioning you, your motives, and the like, this is the Milton Library Assistant, and I will be honest, I hated Milton.
Milton is the friend who argues with you based on semantics, who claims victory no matter what because they don’t argue in good faith, either you’re with them or against them, again, I hated Milton.
I don’t think it’s the concept of what Milton is, but the limitations in how you develop such a thing in a game, the interactions with Milton are multiple choice, and you only get a majority view of what you’re going to reply with.
I honestly only talked to Milton as much as I had to, and rarely bothered to read the “locally cached data”, wach of the terminals in the levels would contain about 3 items, whether emails, blog posts, or classic text, not a fan.
As much as I wanted a puzzle game, The Talos Principle also contained one of the few genre I loathe. The Walking Simulator.
Walking Simulators bore me, I feel like a kid in a museum and not someone in a world they can interact with, it’s a way for developers to tell you the lore when videogames is a way to show you everything.
As well as the Milton terminals, you hear voices of dissent from other robots who have run these trials, but these are told through QR codes dotted in some locations for you to discover, which again is the game telling you something is amiss and not showing you.
And you hear greater lore of the world from audio-recordings placed around, by the in-game world designer, who built this entire thing as the world was ending.
If I am honest, for what it was, The Talos Principle is too long, making you run around on your own for 15-ish hours just makes it boring, doesn’t give you much investment with the world.
How would I improve it? If making it shorter (or removing the wrap-around story, to just give us the puzzles) is off the table, I’d make the game wholly different.
Get rid of the isolation, put a bunch of other robots in the world so that it doesn’t feel empty, you could set a world hub as a huge cathederal, and have each of the worlds spin-off from there, this allows you to interact with and observe others so you feel like there is weight to the world.
To explain this point, as you reach end-game, ascend the central tower and break Elohim’s rules, he pleads with you not to as your actions will destroy the world itself, this felt like it carried no weight when the world is literally you and two voices.
If you had NPC robots running around, carrying out tasks, maintaining the world, creatures that you have talked to and interacted with, when you turn around and destroy the world it carries more meaning, do you let everyone die for your hubris? Because as the game stands it felt like I wasn’t really risking anything.
To really drive home this point in game, I would create an NPC that you adventure with, someone you can bounce ideas and thoughts off of, as you either disobey Elohim or let Milton influence you, your friend swings the other way, this would provide a better opponent at the end of the game than what we have, and give you a personal investment in the outcome.
I’d also let you “download” Milton at the beginning of the game, allowing him to point out how imperfect the world is, to really show you Elohim’s lies, rather than his berating you for not agreeing with him on technical definitions of things.
Overall, I’m going to do something different here, I will split my review into the puzzles, and the rest of the game, because I really feel that if I rated the game as a whole it wouldn’t get the rating it deserves.
So, for the puzzles, I’m going 8 tetris pieces out of 10, though frustrating they were fun.
And the rest of the game? 4 out of 10.
Oh, and when it comes to filling the grids with your tetris runes, place the odd shaped ones first, generally makes it easier.