• Unforeseen Greatness - The Talos Principle

    This page contains spoilers.

    The game starts with the player character, a robot which resembles a human, awakening in a strange, ancient looking place. A voice that identifies itself as ELOHIM materializes out of nowhere. The voice says, "Behold, child. You are risen from the dust, and you walk in my garden. Hear now my voice and know that I am your maker, and I am called ELOHIM. Seek me in my temple if you are worthy."

    ELOHIM watches your progress closely, encourages faith and your success. He talks about the world you are in, how it was made for you and how it contains secrets, how there have been others before you, how before this world there was chaos but in here there is purpose.

    But he/it isn't the only one you make contact with. On some of these computers you may contact the Milton Library Assistant, hereby referred to as Milton. It is an AI designed to sort and categorize information, and respond to conflicting information. But it seems it was made too sentient if there is such a thing, as it has seemingly developed a personality. A manipulative and nihilistic one.

    When a computer displays this, it means "Milton" has something to say.

    Some may wonder why so little information is on these computers, if their purpose (as is revealed later on) is to preserve human history. Milton, your library is lacking, to say the least.

    ELOHIM, which means God in Hebrew, acts almost as a father figure to you and seems benevolent, while Milton seems manipulative. Milton questions you, gauges certain responses only to point out logical fallacies and conflicts in them, tries to make you doubt ELOHIM in this place. Communication with ELOHIM is one way (him speaking to you) while communication with Milton is two way, with selected dialogue responses within the computer interface.

    ELOHIM warns you about Milton, and more importantly against exploring the tower in the main hub which seems to reach into the clouds. Do not let it tempt you, he says, which probably tempts you further. Milton occasionally suggests exploring it, albeit he doesn't push too hard for this since he doesn't seem to care about anything either way. The conflict between these two characters leads to an inevitable choice; do you do as ELOHIM says and simply solve all main puzzles and then supposedly achieve eternal life? Or do you ascend the tower against ELOHIM's will? Or do you find more secrets and unlock the more discreet third ending?

    The sequence that follows ascending to the top of the tower is one of the most memorable moments in video game history. When you consider the gravity of your actions here from the perspective of the protagonist, it is truly amazing. The score here is also incredible.

    Storytelling is also done through time capsules; large, almost holographic images (which are different each time) found around many of the worlds you will explore. Each of these contains a narrated recording/monologue of someone named Alexandra Drennan, head of the Extended Life (EL) project also referred to as Talos and occasionally Soma. This project was a major undertaking by the Institute of Applied Noematics, also known as IAN. Alexandra speaks about progress on the project and brings up morally ambiguous questions which, combined with much of what is read on the computers, become major themes within the story. What's continuously revealed by these time capsules and the entirety of the game's story is both sad and beautiful, two feelings strongly present throughout the entire game. The Talos Principle is a very moving experience.

    These time capsules along with the notes and such written by other IAN members found on the computers make the basic plot clear cut. The nature of your existence, ELOHIM, Milton, and the world the game takes place in is strange and questionable at first, but answered quite directly by these narrated monologues and texts. What is not clear cut are the philosophical questions asked by the game. These questions revolve around various topics such as consciousness, artificial intelligence, immortality and mortality of man, religion, speciesism, and various societal, existential, and even some nihilistic questions and perspectives. Very few games attempt to tackle as many themes as The Talos Principle, and even fewer handle them as well. Some of the morally ambiguous questions are presented in somewhat contrived fashion early on, but they are successfully expanded on and reinforced.

    I would say that all of these time capsules, documents, lines from ELOHIM, and conversations with Milton are well written. Many are extremely thought-provoking, others are funny, others are sad. They all serve their purpose to gradually introduce new concepts and themes to the story, and presenting them in a unique way (although as previously stated some of the initial thematic presentation isn't as unique).

    Your "journal."

    Obviously a core concept of this game is the Talos Principle itself, a philosophical concept that conveys the idea that we can't escape or avoid reality. If a person loses enough blood, they die, quite like a machine. This principle is tied into other themes from the story to raise existential and even nihilistic questions, and much more.

    There are many layers to this story, more than almost every other game, and they are gradually revealed with perfect pacing. This along with the gradual increase in puzzle complexity keeps the game interesting for its 25 or more hours, even though much of the main plot (the nature of your existence and the world you're in) is made clear long before you finish all of the main puzzles.

    All of the themes come together to form one complete and coherent philosophical story with troubling moral implications, and does not attempt to assert answers for many of them. Considering the fact that you play as a robot, and how this plays into one of the game's endings, it can be seen as trying to answer the question of whether or not consciousness can be found in artificial intelligence, but I have no issues with this. This story, one of the most layered and thus complex in video game history, is told in a way unique to video gaming. The gameplay, its appearance and the logic behind it, is all wonderfully a part of its story. The very reason as to why the gameplay involves puzzle solving and Tetris pieces is incorporated into its story. Flaws or seemingly synthetic limitations that can be brought up are addressed by its plot, although some may find this cheap at times. We can't discuss this further without spoiling the game too much. Croteam found a way to try and cover all their bases, a hard thing to do properly and most games are too lazy to even attempt this.

    Road to Gehenna, the expansion, does a good job extending the main game's philosophical storytelling while adding lasting appeal to the game, and more meaningful content. You play as a different protagonist, set out to right a wrong from ELOHIM, engaging in a philosophical discussion with other "Child" characters who had passed the trials yet been imprisoned by ELOHIM out of fear of death. Thus, this expansion expands on ELOHIM's character and also helps set future expectations for the sequel.

    Road to Gehenna is only to be played AFTER finishing the main game with the ending in which you ascend the tower.

    Spoilers end here.

    Not only does The Talos Principle (and Road to Gehenna) live up to its own claims as a philosophical game, it lives up to its glowing praise. Hard to believe that Croteam, a very talented studio and one that serves PC gaming better than most others but with a development experience that includes little more than the Serious Sam franchise (arcade FPS), was able to make one of the best story-driven games and most artistic games of all time.

    Two of the biggest problems with people are subpar intelligence caused by a lack of logical, rational thinking, and a lack of empathy. The Talos Principle will cure both! Not really, but it is intellectually challenging with its puzzles and its story really helps build character. It is one of the most emotionally hard hitting games by far, games like The Last of Us are nothing in comparison due to their lack of thematic depth and philosophical material. The Talos Principle draws on these attributes to deliver a story that builds empathy and hope, despite the depressing setting the game takes place in.

    All that is left to say is, bring on the sequel!

    Comments 4 Comments
    1. Charcharo's Avatar
      Charcharo -
      Great to see this amazing title get acknowledged on our site !
    1. Jester's Avatar
      Jester -
      Wow, check out this update from Croteam.


      VR support, Linux support, Vulkan support, better OpenAL, better modding support, and much more for all of their relevant games. This includes The Talos Principle (although it includes most of these things already), Serious Sam 3: BFE, and Serious Sam HD. Basically they want to make Serious Sam have as many options as this game (as if they didn't have enough), and be as close to perfection as possible.
    1. Charcharo's Avatar
      Charcharo -
      Croteam is truly PCMR to the bone. This is awesome, who else does this for 8 year old games?
    1. Jester's Avatar
      Jester -
      The closest thing I can think of was KOTOR 2, but even that update wasn't as good. KOTOR 2 got a major engine renovation for better support for modern systems, although not as extreme as the full fledged remakes that are Serious Sam HD (first and second encounters). KOTOR 2 got Workshop support, but that's about it. It still breaks above 85 Hz, and they actually significantly DOWNGRADED the sound system by ditching DirectSound3D and not using OpenAL, so goodbye EAX and 3D sound.

      Croteam support > all