Game Review #460: Talos Principle: Deluxe Edition - Nintendo Switch
Reviewer: John B Developer: Croteam Publisher: Devolver Digital Category: Puzzle, Strategy, Adventure Release Date: 12.10.2019 Price: $29.99
Buy The Talos Principle: Deluxe Edition from the Nintendo Switch eShop here.
The Talos Principle: Deluxe Edition for the Nintendo Switch is the latest port of a critically-acclaimed game to make its way to this site’s system of choice. Originally released in 2014, the Switch is the last of the major systems to welcome the game, but that’s fine by me since it means we get all the DLC included from the beginning instead of having to wait for it. Take that, early adopters! The lazy man wins again. But just because I’m lazy, that doesn’t mean I can approach the game with a lackadaisical attitude. Success in The Talos Principle requires a sharp wit, tenacity, and excellent reasoning skills. Plus you get a great story to go along with the challenging puzzles. Let’s start with the story.
The Age of Man is Ended
Long ago, the great hero Tiber Septim united all the nations of Tamriel, giving birth to the Third Age. Upon his death – what? Not that Talos? The one from Greek mythology? I guess that makes more sense. Seems like they would have been sued. Anyway, humanity is gone. All that remains is an experimental system designed to create a mechanical consciousness that will inherit and continue the history, culture, and legacy of mankind. Players assume the role of the latest iteration of that system’s attempts to create consciousness. You are guided by Elohim, the name of the program controlling the game’s environments.
Elohim instructs the player to solve the puzzles it has created, telling them that doing so will allow them to ascend. He also tells the player not to scale the giant tower located in the hub of the puzzle grounds, lest they face some vaguely defined consequences. Players find messages from previous iterations of the program as well as logs of the human researchers that flesh out the game’s backstory, detailing the final days of mankind and the development of the EL (Extended Lifespan) project. Computer terminals placed throughout the trial grounds also give players the ability to communicate with a troubleshooting program that attempts to guide the player into defining, and then displaying, consciousness, as well as encouraging the player to defy Elohim.
Ultimately, the game provides an interesting, if sometimes frustrating exploration of what it means to possess consciousness. The troubleshooter prompts players to consider what it is that defines life, and then challenges your answers in a way that often makes it feel like no answer will or even can ever be reached. Multiple endings account for the major choice you make at the end of the game. While I generally quite enjoyed the game and its story, I do have one major question about the logic of the whole thing. If they could program Elohim to be able to define and recognize consciousness, why did we need to go through all of these tests to create consciousness? Why not just use those criteria to create consciousness in the first place if they already had it worked out? It just bugged me over the course of my playthrough.
The Road to Complexity
The Talos Principle: Deluxe Edition comes with the Road to Gehenna expansion at no additional cost to Switch owners (eat it, PC master race). I won’t go too far into the story, since it’s kind of a spoiler for the main game (not that I didn’t get kinda spoilery already), but it involves the player assuming the role of Uriel, one of Elohim’s previous attempts at creating a self-aware AI and one of the main previous AIs that left messages for the player in the base game. The story provides a fascinating look at what incomplete AIs think humanity might have been like based on incomplete information and a lack of experience. It is a wilder story than the base game, and like the base game it has multiple endings. The final choices of Road to Gehenna, however, present a greyer moral challenge that I found far more fascinating than the one presented by The Talos Principle proper.
Cyber-Rat in a Virtual Maze
The Talos Principle’s puzzles come in two major varieties. The first is the overwhelming majority of the gameplay, a series of mazelike puzzles that the player must solve to obtain the sigil awaiting them at the center of the maze. Sigils are used in the second type of puzzle, but we’ll get to that in a minute. The mazes involve using different interactive objects to navigate through doors, around floating mines, and avoid machine gun turrets. There are switches to activate, blocks to climb on, and launch pads to traverse large distances. Items like electronic jammers, focusing crystals to connect laser beams to ports, and a rewind system that creates a virtual clone to perform tasks in tandem with the player are available.
The major strength of The Talos Principle’s mazes are the best strength a puzzle game can have – the different elements and mechanics introduced over the course of the game are integrated to create a steadily escalating level of challenge. There was never a time where I felt that the difficulty curve spiked or slumped unexpectedly – the techniques you learn for manipulating certain items teach you ways to solve more complicated problems later on. The only item I had trouble with was the rewind console – I had a very hard time visualizing the steps I needed to program to get stuff done. The more complex puzzles with a rewind element gave me no end of trouble.
Back to those sigils. The sigils are puzzle pieces that bear a striking resemblance to the blocks in everyone’s favorite block-stacking game of all time. Unlike Tetris, however, the point of these blocks is to fit them into a specific board. Each area of the game is gated by a puzzle board which can only be filled by using certain shapes of sigil. Fitting the sigils onto each board provides an escalating level of challenge that provides a rewarding change of pace from the game’s main puzzles. While the main puzzles are challenging and fun in their own right, they can get a little monotonous if you play too long. The sigil puzzles change things up nicely, making sure the gameplay doesn’t get stale.
The Talos Aesthetic
The graphics aren’t as sharp as they are on the PC, but that doesn’t mean The Talos Principle looks bad on the Switch. On the contrary, the visual design of the game draws its power more from the overall concept of it virtual world than it does from a high resolution. The expansive landscapes you will explore are notably impressive for the creative way they create architecture reflective of different ancient cultures whose philosophy about death and the self influenced the creation of the EL project. The audio design is less important to the experience; while there are some great performances delivered by the game’s voice cast, there are only a few roles that get the voiceover treatment. The music is soft and soothing, but too often fades into the background to leave much of an impression.
Just To Be Clear, This Game Has Nothing To Do With Skyrim and That’s OK
The Talos Principle: Deluxe Edition is a fantastic collection for the Switch, and a fine addition to anyone’s game library. Its greatest appeal will be to gamers who either enjoy a deep narrative exploration of philosophy or those who enjoy challenging puzzle games, but I would still recommend it to anyone who asks. Some games are of such a high quality that they demand attention from players regardless of genre preferences, and this is one of them.
Buy The Talos Principle: Deluxe Edition from the Nintendo Switch eShop here.
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*A game code was provided for review purposes