Review: The Talos Principle

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I was not prepared for this one. I knew what it was, a first-person puzzler with a splash of philosophy. I was ready for puzzles, and I got excellent puzzles. I was ready for philosophy, and I got some cute interludes and snappy dialogues. What I was not ready for was an ending that fit it all together perfectly, so perfectly that I could barely contain the emotions it inspired. It’s remarkable how solid a game The Talos Principle is in just its basic systems, but it is a singular accomplishment how powerful an experience they constitute in the end.

I’m not telling you a damn thing about the story because that’s where the magic happens with this one. You awaken in a bright garden among Greek ruins, and are directed to overcome trials scattered across the strange and picturesque world you find yourself in. These trials reward you with sigils which unlock doors that lead you closer to your ultimate goal. There’s more going on than just puzzle-solving though, as you’ll soon learn from the computer terminals standing among the trees and ruins.

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It’s a strange and otherworldly setup that frames the experience perfectly, putting you in the right mindset for some philosophical puzzling. The puzzles themselves will be familiar to fans of Portal, featuring buttons to place crates on, laser beams to redirect, force fields to jam, and more. There are about six core mechanics that comprise all the puzzles in how they combine and can be pushed to new functions. Puzzles are color-coded by difficulty and form a nice, smooth difficulty curve up to taxing your brain across the dozen hours or so it will take to complete them all.

There’s more to these puzzles than meets the eye, though. Croteam loves secrets in their games, and nearly every level contains at least one secret, usually in the form of stars. Solving puzzles earns you sigils (Tetris pieces, really) that open up gates to later areas, helpfully color-coded for their function and also how difficult they are to obtain. But the stars can be anywhere in a puzzle hub, requiring you to notice slight details, solve clever riddles, or string together a complex solution between multiple puzzles. Gathering sigils will make you feel accomplished, but scoring a star will make you feel like a genius.

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Weaving through forcefields and linking laser networks will keep you plenty busy, but the terminals are what will really catch your attention. Every corner of the world has a computer to fiddle with, complete with its own DOS-style text interface. Though you choose your inputs from a menu they cover a wide range of commands and give you access to a perplexing array of files, articles, and correspondences. There’s also another aspect of gameplay that you gain access to via terminals that I really really want to tell you about, but you absolutely have to experience it for yourself. It may seem a little off-putting at first, but rarely have I had my own concepts about the world challenged by a game as they were here.

As the story comes together through the terminals and you near the end of your quest, the environments and stakes rise to an impressive pitch. The final areas have a powerful air of permanence to them, as though your choices have far-reaching consequences. Throughout the game the puzzles continue to build in complexity and expand on the concepts they introduce, and nowhere is that more apparent than in the incredible climax. And then it ends, and what follows is without question the best ending I have ever experienced in a video game. It’s not the longest or the prettiest or the most complex, but it is the perfect culmination of everything you accomplish in The Talos Principle. It was powerful enough to bring me to tears, and I really don’t think there is any higher compliment I can give a game than that.

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What started out as a clever puzzle game grew to be one of my all-time top titles because of how expertly it formed a complete experience. Other games have amazing gameplay or story or graphics but rarely, if ever, do these elements combine and compliment each other so effectively. I was curious and uncertain about the game in the early hours but with each puzzle I solved, each terminal I explored, I became more and more drawn into the deep and gorgeous world laid before me. I reached a point where I could no longer bear to leave its secrets hidden, and uncovering them made me weep with joy. The Talos Principle is a game I feel fortunate and privileged to have played, and my time with it will surely remain one of my most treasured gaming memories.

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