It’s hard not to be perplexed after playing through the first two hours of The Talos Principle, the upcoming title from Serious Sam developer Croteam. Countless questions arise during that first 120 minutes. Who am I? What is my purpose? Where am I? Where is this booming voice guiding me coming from? Is the booming voice actually guiding me? Why do I have robot hands? Why do I have to get these Tetris-like sigils? What in God’s name is going on?
Bringing up this many existential questions right off the bat might seem like a recipe for disaster; after all, hooking players in using pure confusion is a risky tactic. However, for all of the mind-boggling moments in the opening segment of The Talos Principle, it’s difficult to stop searching for those all-important answers. Of course, if all of the confusion doesn’t end up paying off, Tom Jubert’s philosophical narrative will be seen as nothing more than heavy-handed. Conversely, if, by its conclusion, The Talos Principle is truly able to make us think as much as it wants to, it could wind up being one of the most special puzzlers in recent memory.
Players begin their journey after appearing in a lush forest brimming with Ancient Roman architecture. A seemingly omniscient God-like voice, the only other character present in The Talos Principle‘s opening stage, finds a way to direct you onward while revealing little-to-no information about exactly what is going on. Your goal is both incredibly simple and extremely complex (can you see a theme developing here): solve a series of small puzzles to unlock categorized sigils, the combination of which unlocks new areas. For instance, in the opening area, collecting specific yellow sigils unlocks light-refracting connectors and placeable hexahedrons (yes, there’s definitely a portal influence here). Everything you do in The Talos Principle whittles away at the all-important answers you and your character are desperately seeking.
Simple, but elegant, the puzzle design in The Talos Principle manages to challenge players without ever being frustrating. Sure, one might scratch his or her head for minutes at a time searching for a solution, but the overwhelming urge to simple quit and play something else never arises. Each puzzle in The Talos Principle‘s opening section uses a combination of force-field jammers, light-refracting connectors, gates, locked doors, and proximity-activated enemies. The tools to get each tantalizing sigil are always present, meaning that each puzzle is solved through experimentation. You don’t have to be a genius to solve any of the puzzles present here, but you do have to be willing to fool around with what’s in front of you until a solution presents itself. Perhaps most excitingly, there seems to be multiple solutions available at any given time. For instance, one might use a jammer to unlock a gate that has a light-based lock mechanism, indicating that a completely different series of events could trigger its opening.
It certainly doesn’t hurt that the environment you’re solving all of these puzzles in is breathtaking. The dichotomy between the serene, foliage-heavy opening area and the general sense of confusion The Talos Principle inspires is tangible. It’s hard to be frustrated with the lack of answers when you’re roaming around a stunningly detailed sea-side forest. That feeling of calmness that sitting in the shade on a hot day inspires is illustrated through the fantastic shadow design. Worn-down brick buildings give players the sense that they’re wandering through areas brimming with stories of the past. Sure, The Talos Principle will perplex you, but that uncertainty becomes an asset when it’s placed within such a peaceful setting.
As was previously stated, if, after creating a tangible sense of dubiety, The Talos Principle fails to answer its biggest questions, then it’ll wind up being nothing more than a pretty puzzler. However, if the same mind behind The Swapper‘s outstanding narrative can weave together a tale that forces us to examine ourselves, then this could be something truly special. The framework is there for The Talos Principle to be the next great puzzle game, as its experimentation-heavy gameplay and gorgeous environments should pull in players of all skill-sets. What’s more, Devolver Digital’s recent publishing history suggests that The Talos Principle might just live up to its lofty potential.