Review: The Talos Principle: Road to Gehenna

The world of The Talos Principle is coming to an end and its chief AI has a few regrets to make right before the end.  Elohim had imprisoned various troublemakers over the years, but while they were annoying, that’s not a good enough reason to see them wiped from existence when the virtual realm they all inhabit gets erased.  They need to be rescued so Elohim dispatches his servant Uriel to get them out of there, but this being The Talos Principle (read our review of that here), there’s a lot of puzzle-solving required to complete the mission.

The Road to Gehenna is the first expansion for The Talos Principle, bringing 17 new puzzles divided up among four realms, with each realm having four extra-hard stars to track down, plus other bonuses to uncover.  The main quest being 17 puzzles long doesn’t sound like a lot, but The Talos Principle isn’t known for being easy and there are several hours of great first-person adventuring even if you skip the extra content.  The main quest is on the hard side of reasonably challenging, the stars are incredibly tricky to collect, and there are a few secrets and side-quests after that to keep the puzzling going.

Talos Principle veterans will feel right at home from the very first set of levels, which are filled with roaming sentries, pressure plates, electro-doors, switches, energy beams, and all the other elements that needed to be arranged in just the right way to progress.  While there’s nothing really new in terms of game mechanics, The Talos Principle already had a deep toybox to pull puzzle elements from.  Do you use a box to hold down a switch or put it on top of a sentry?  Ride the box on the sentry or put something else on top of it?  Use a block on a pressure plate, force the door with a jammer, or some combination of both to get everything to another part of the level?  And even when you figure out what to do there’s frequently a period of tweaking everything to get the timing right.  Wiring up paths of energy beams so the right doors open, keeping in mind that not everything needs to be activated all the time, is just the basics.  By the time Gehenna is fully explored you’ll be activating doors with the energy beam locked away behind it in a series activations and deactivations that somehow has come to make perfect sense.

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While the puzzle structure of Road to Gehenna is familiar, the new story is very different from The Talos Principle.  Uriel is a free agent, left to his own devices without Elohim’s constant oversight.  The goal of each puzzle room is to rescue the robotic AI inside, and each one is a person to interact with on the PC terminals scattered throughout the game.  The story is told by logging in after each rescue, with forum threads filling in the details of who trusts you and who doesn’t.  Certain threads are locked, though, and Uriel will need to interact with the forum to earn status necessary to access the full story.  There are even a few small interactive fiction pieces to play through.  The prisoners’ forums run on a very simple ascii interface, but seeing as it’s the only thing they’ve got to do they’ve made the best of it.  Lively as the forums are, though, the robotic prisoners do little more than run back to the central staging area after being rescued.  A little more personality in the robots would have gone a long way to adding the final touch of life to Gehenna’s beautiful worlds.

Like The Talos Principle before, it, Road to Gehenna takes place in a peaceful, beautiful series of worlds.  The sun shines in a blue sky, ruins are majestically decayed, and the wind rustles through the trees.  While it’s easy to get slightly obsessed with a particularly challenging puzzle, it only takes a few seconds of looking about and soaking in the atmosphere to clear your head for a second try.  I walked away from a challenge more than once to try something else, only to come back a few minutes late and breeze right through.  Road to Gehenna is challenging and relaxing in equal measure, which is a welcome atmosphere for a game that demands you think five moves ahead.

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Closing Comments:

While The Road to Gehenna may not be as expansive as its parent game, it provides exactly the kind of devious challenges its fans are wanting more of.  The difficulty starts at the same level The Talos Principle had in the latter half of the game and doesn’t let up, although it doesn’t get much harder either.  The challenge clocks in at “enjoyably hard” rather than expert, at least in the main story, but there are always more secrets to chase after.  Road to Gehenna expands the story and provides more of what made its parent game so incredibly playable, providing a welcome return to a lovely but ruined virtual world of puzzle-based first-person action.