The Talos Principle

The Talos Principle is a mechanical-logical puzzle video game developed by Croteam and published by Devolver Digital. The game was released simultaneously on Windows, Linux and OS X with Android and PlayStation 4 versions slated for release in the second quarter of 2015. The video game can be played from a first-person or third-person perspective, according to the player’s preference.

‘The Talos Principle’ explores deep philosophical themes and concepts such as sentience, consciousness, self-awareness, sapience, free will and moral obligation.

The unnamed main protagonist – a humanoid robot – gains consciousness in a serene, ancient-labyrinth-like environment. A disembodied voice, identifying itself as Elohim, informs the robot that he has created a multitude of worlds that the robot should explore, and try and solve the mechanical-logical puzzles within, as part of a path to enlightenment.

The puzzles initially include only three components: force-field-doors that block the robot’s path, proximity-mine guarding-drones that will detonate if the robot/player gets too close to them, and wall-mounted machine-gun-turrets with laser beam sensors, that will detect and shoot the robot/player if he approaches them. Both the drones and turrets can be disabled using portable ‘jamming guns’ which can be also used to disrupt the force fields.

If you’re reading this, you are alive. And some day you will stop being alive. Both of these facts are incontrovertible.

There is no save option within the game. The game creates regular checkpoint-saves as the player progresses and if the main character ‘dies’, the game is reset to the start of the last visited maze/puzzle. Any of the previous checkpoint-saves can also be loaded, if the player gets stuck, or wants to have another go at an already solved puzzle.

The goal of the puzzles is to locate and collect colour-coded tetromino-shaped ‘sigils’, hidden within the individual mazes, that, once the required amount is collected, open doors to new maze complexes as well as unlock new puzzle components. The game is split into three distinctly different environments (or ‘worlds’ as they are referred to by Elohim) reminiscent of Ancient Rome, Old Egypt and Middle Ages architectures, that between them include over 125 mazes containing puzzles of ever-increasing complexity and difficulty.

Special ‘star sigils’ can be also obtained within some of these mazes as a reward for solutions to their respective puzzles. These puzzles are usually of higher complexity as the ‘regular’ puzzles, and/or require thinking outside the box. While it is necessary to collect all the sigils from the three main ‘worlds’ to complete the game proper, collecting the ‘star sigils’ isn’t compulsory, but they give the player access to ‘bonus’ mazes containing additional puzzles.

In addition to these discrete puzzle mazes, the robot/player can explore the open environments of the individual ‘worlds’ to find further ‘bonus’ puzzles. By solving some of these, the robot/player can, for instance, open tombs containing ‘messengers’ – robots similar to himself, that, once awakened, can be later summoned to provide a one-time hint for a particularly tricky problem. The individual ‘worlds’ are also peppered with assorted in-jokes and Easter eggs.

Soon, the robot/player finds himself at a base of a gigantic tower with its summit disappearing in storm-brewing clouds high above, and Elohim warns him not to climb up to the highest level of the tower (a clear reference to Adam and Eve’s forbidden fruit challenge in Genesis 2:16–17) because the day he will disobey Elohim’s order “he will surely die”. And, similarly to Adam and Eve, the ban will obviously only give the robot/player further impetus to explore the mysterious ‘forbidden’ tower.

As a reward for resisting the temptation of the ‘forbidden’ tower, Elohim promises to robot/player that once he had overcome all the trials (i.e. puzzles) the ‘Gates of Eternity’ in the medieval hub will open, he can enter, and will be granted “Life Ever-Lasting”.

Throughout the levels, the robot/player can find a score of computer terminals giving access to a central database containing files with fractions of web sites, logs of online chat rooms, e-mails, and other assorted texts. The majority of these files became gradually corrupted due to a process known as the digital dark age and are unavailable. Nonetheless, those few files that remain (even some of these are only partially legible – unless you are an uber-geek that is – in that case you can decipher the illegible parts from the hexadecimal symbols they decayed into) contain numerous clues which hint to the conclusion that mankind met its untimely fate through some unspecified cataclysmic event. These files, and literary works within, also carry various deep philosophical themes that explore the meaning of consciousness, what it entails being a person and having a free will, as well as make you think about concepts such as transhumanism, moral obligation, good, evil, right, wrong, and not least, soul, god, heaven and hell.

In addition to these documents, the robot/player can use the terminals to communicate with an unknown entity called Milton, who discusses with the robot/player the nature of free will, consciousness, and the meaning of life itself, and impels the robot/player to question his true purpose in this world and defy the will of Elohim.

Within the individual mazes, the robot/player can also find various messages and clues left by the previous explorers of this world in the form of QR codes placarded onto the walls as well as holograms containing assorted audio recordings.

So what about it then? Don’t you wonder? Why do you exist? What is the purpose of your life? Do you have one?

All these digital documents, messages as well as other, visual, clues (elements of the environment flicker and glitch at times, suggesting that Elohim’s ‘world’ is, in fact, a virtual space) hint that all is not what it seems, and that the ultimate answer lies at the top level of the mysterious ‘forbidden’ tower…

Some of the components featured in the puzzles are force-field-doors that block the robot’s path and can be opened using portable ‘jamming guns’.

Considering that ‘The Talos Principle’ is an indie game (even though from a well-established independent video game developer), it is very professionally made. The highly-intuitive game menu allows for customisation of the gameplay down to the last minute detail (even including motion-sickness settings for those suffering from this debilitating condition). As far as the game proper goes, environments, animations, soundtracks, voice acting, controls, and the gameplay itself are all up to scratch and made to a high standard. Perhaps the only reservation is that the futuristic technology of the puzzle components contrast sharply with the ancient ruins of the game environments. Especially the proximity-mine guarding-drones and wall-mounted machine-gun-turrets aspects of the mechanical-logical puzzles seem like plucked straight out of Croteam’s Serious Sam franchise (indeed, The Talos Principle apparently came about as a by-product of Croteam’s work towards Serious Sam 4, while experimenting with the use of interactive objects as part of the game design). Perhaps something more subtle and antique-looking would help to make the game a bit more aesthetically plausible. However, this minor imperfection can be easily overlooked in view of high playability and drug-like addictiveness of this not only original but also clever and thought-provoking game.

If your parents ever again tell you that all video games are rubbish and waste of time, that they won’t teach you anything, only suck out all your intelligence and turn you into a brainless zombie, show them ‘The Talos Principle’ and let them read some of the texts within the game. They might yet be pleasantly surprised by the depth of the philosophical themes explored herein.

◈ ◈ ◈

An expansion pack, titled ‘Road to Gehenna’, will be released in the 2nd quarter of 2015 for Windows, Linux and OS X, and later for PS4.


TRIVIA: A substantial number of the Oxyrhynchus Papyri, the collection of ancient manuscripts mentioned in the game, are housed in the Ashmolean Museum at Oxford University, UK.