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An existential cyber-crisis – The Talos Principle preview

I stare at the quandary before me, its various tools strewn about in such a way as to be difficult to attain, and yet subtly instructing me on how to solve it. I flit between pressure plates and electronic gate jammers, slowly making headway toward a floating tetromino, gated off in the distance.

Suddenly: a flash of light. I’ve got it. I zip around, placing items, manipulating light beams, and finally, the puzzle piece is mine. A booming voice overhead claiming to be Elohim (Hebrew for God) speaks to me, congratulating me on my new prize. He assures me that these puzzles are here to challenge me, that all will be revealed in time. Also: don’t go in the tower. The rest of the world has been designed just for me. But the tower? Stay away.

Computer terminals bleep and bloop to inform me a new message awaits. A psychoanalysis informs me that my idea of consciousness is irreconcilable with the laws of physics. Its responses to my queries make me question my own replies, my own ideas on the concepts of personhood, and even whether or not this Elohim has my best interests in mind.

This is the Talos Principle, and I have no idea what’s going on.

Each puzzle is distinct and tricky in its own way

Each puzzle is distinct and tricky in its own way

It’s the brainchild of Croteam (the studio behind first-person shooter throwback Serious Sam) and writers Tom Jubert (FTL, The Swapper) and Jonas Kyratzes (Infinite Ocean). The last thing I’d expect from the team behind a hyper-violent shooter was an introspective philosophical puzzler, but here we are. And after playing for about three hours, I can’t wait to see how far this rabbit hole goes.

The overall concept might be a bit heady, but the actual gameplay is very simplistically structured. Each area has several individual rooms, and you have to manipulate a growing set of tools to make it to the puzzle piece waiting at the end of each one. Electronic jammers, light beams, fans, boxes and more must be utilized while you avoid turrets and roving sentries that are out to “kill” you–though they merely reset you to the beginning of the puzzle if you get caught. Each prize you earn is a piece of a key to a new implementation or area. The tetrominoes, once collected, must be pieced together at special terminals to unlock gates or grant you new abilities.

The drive to find out what these newly acquired keys will unlock is fierce, but the real carrot on the end of the proverbial stick is the fantastically written story. There are hints of a cataclysmic event found in the different terminals. Messages of prior “players” line the walls, each one dealing with their own philosophical hang ups as they come to grips with this weird digitized world.

Watch out for those spherical dudes. They'll send you back to the start of the puzzle if you get too close.

Watch out for those spherical dudes. They’ll send you back to the start of the puzzle if you get too close.

And what is the self? What is consciousness? Is what I’m experiencing, what I’m typing right now, real? Or is it a digital construct intended to merely simulate the self? How can I prove either way is correct? These are questions rarely put forth by a game, this kind of self-reflexive Socratic dialog, and the questions posed by the Talos Principle are absolutely fascinating.

After spending a few hours in this strange world filled with brain-teasers and puzzles of several kinds, I’ve walked away more befuddled than I was going in. But that’s its intent. It wants you to ask questions of yourself, to want to think on these implicit questions while you’re slowly stumbling through its more explicitly positioned challenges. I don’t know what the answers to these questions are, and I’m not even sure the Talos Principle does, either. But I’m going to follow this thing to its end, whether what awaits is enlightenment or simply more questions.

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