E3 2014: The Talos Principle Is a Philosophical Puzzle Game That's as Smart as It Is Beautiful

Beauty and brains.


There's no greater pressure than playing a game in front of its developers. For action games, any embarrassing pratfalls can be explained away by my place as a novice, so even though I cringe with every failure I rack up, I can at least use ignorance as a defense. When it's a puzzle game and my brain is fizzling out, well, there's nowhere for me to hide. So if you saw me with a bright red face and anxious hand-wringing, it was because I had to play The Talos Principle in front of the very people who had made it. Despite my desperate need to find a hole to scurry into, however, I was enamored by the beautiful world that lay before me, and the cunning puzzles in wait. The pressure of that moment may have been great, but my misery gave way to a fantastic experience I had previously known nothing about.

If I had known before seeing The Talos Principle that the development team behind Serious Sam had created it, my expectations would have been slanted. Surely, a puzzle game from people who make twitch-based shooters would be a disaster. Those two design philosophies are polar opposites, right? So what kind of puzzle game could they deliver? Well, maybe the discrepancy isn't as great as it first appears to be. The first inkling of The Talos Principle began when the team was trying to figure out more complex puzzles than "blue key opens the blue door." And once they traveled down that rabbit hole of the mind, they realized how much they had to say, and eagerly flexed their talents that had lain dormant before.

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The Talos Principle is a first-person adventure set in a gorgeous land in which towering trees and enticing vistas demand your attention, letting you spend time to take in the sights before you go about your business. Of course, I couldn't spend my entire time with the game staring at trees, so I set off down a dirt path to see what mysteries awaited. Rooms branched before me, each leading to a puzzle room in which I had to figure out every aspect--from the tools to the objectives--for myself. Clearly, this is my kind of puzzle game. I would rather spend hours devising a solution than be pointed in the right direction, so long as the puzzles are interesting and fair.

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Foolishly, I entered a "hard" puzzle first, and quickly backtracked to find something more my speed. Ah, easy. Now there's a tune I can whistle. Once I walked inside an open-roofed enclosure, I found a tripod with a funny gadget on top. This computerized wizardry short-circuited a nearby gate, letting me push deeper into the puzzle. I then found another one. My only goal, I soon realized, was to commandeer two of these at once, knowing that neither I nor the contraptions can pass through a closed gate. Easy enough, right? Well, it took a little bit of fiddling (this is where the embarrassing part comes in) before I realized I could just set up that gadget on either side, letting me take both with me. Oh well, live and learn. At least I stumbled on the solution without much help.

Another puzzle involved linking those tripod gadgets in unison to refract a laser beam into a couple of different portals. And though I saw only a few of the puzzles, they do seem appealing enough to build an entire game around. But I don't want to just describe the mental gymnastics I went through. There's much more to The Talos Principle than these puzzles, and that's a big part of the reason I'm anticipating its release later this year.

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The Talos Principle is being billed as a philosophical puzzle game, which sounds strange at first, but was downright intriguing once I realized why. A voice from the heavens would talk to me during odd moments, extending the puzzling beyond the raw solutions that make up the action. I had to figure out who was talking, and why, not because it was another goal, but because I was curious. And when I reached a computer terminal, I started when I saw that my hands were robotic. What kind of creature was I? I entered commands, starting a conversation with the computer. It wouldn't tell me who I was, or where I was going, but it made me curious to find out more.

After getting a taste of The Talos Principle, I cannot wait to uncover more of the mystery. Just navigating that computer dialogue was enough to draw me in. There were so many choices in what to write that I eagerly awaited each response, so I can only imagine what lies in the finished product. But even just as a pure puzzle game, it has interesting concepts that I'd love to explore. Yes, I struggled to complete even basic tasks when the judging gaze of the development team was staring a hole in my back, but that doesn't matter now. My favorite part of E3 is discovering something I had never even heard of before, so I'm thankful that The Talos Principle is now in my life.

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