Review: The Talos Principle: Deluxe Edition

The Talos Principle came out last year to well-deserved acclaim, making its way to 2014 Best Of lists and making puzzle fans happy with its near-endless supply of levels and secrets.  This year’s expansion, The Road to Gehenna, added a new story running concurrently with the events in the main game and easily showed there’s plenty of room left to make new experiences with The Talos Principle’s building blocks.  Now the PS4 is getting both the main game and expansion combined into one handy mega-release, and while The Talos Principle: Deluxe Edition doesn’t add anything new to either game, it’s an incredibly nice conversion of two excellent games.

The original Talos Principle puts you in the robotic body of an AI servant of Elohim, the keeper of an artificial virtual world that seems to be running down.  Glitches send bursts of static through the environments, and while the lands are very pretty the architecture is mostly ruins.  The world works, but just barely.  Elohim has set you free to puzzle your way from one end of it to the other, with three lands of increasing difficulty to explore and a fourth tower that’s completely off limits unless you do something crazy and rebellious like stroll in through its open front door.  Elohim may be the god of this world but he’s not an Old Testament sort, so the worst that will happen is a stern word rather than a plague of frogs.

Each area is open, with the puzzle sections walled off and their entrances clearly marked with helpful signposts pointing the way.  The computer terminal at the hub area’s starting point usually has a few files in there filling in details of what happened to the real world, sections of text outlining the story’s philosophical underpinnings, and occasional communication with other entities who have their own motivations for helping you through this strange puzzle-filled world.  You can use the computers to mine for story info or simply chase after the puzzles and The Talos Principle won’t judge you for either decision, but there’s a lot that’s happened leading up to your journey and the story is far richer than its bare-bones text presentation makes readily apparent.

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The main draw of both The Talos Principle and Road to Gehenna, though, is the puzzles.  Dozens and dozens of puzzles in a large array of styles using what on the surface seems to be a limited number of elements that fit together in endlessly-creative ways.  Jammers turn off electronics such as patrolling bots, turret guns, and electro-doors; boxes can have puzzle elements placed on top of them, be used as a handy stair, or even set on top of patrolling robots as a handy platform. Crystal rods link lasers to receptors and can fracture the beam in multiple directions, and there’s even a recording switch that makes a copy of up to several minutes of activity, which is great when you need to use the image of a jammer to hold a door open and use the actual jammer to disable a robot while also using the memory of yourself standing on a pressure plate to keep a switch held down.  The recording device leads to some of the most clever but, oddly, least enjoyable puzzles in the game, because you need to mentally time off how long you think it will take to complete the action and then stand there, waiting for future-you to get on with it.  Thankfully the recording puzzles are the least common and the rest of the puzzle types are rarely anything less than an absolute joy to solve.

While each individual puzzle is good on its own, most areas have a larger puzzle or two requiring linking up the various sections to activate.  Figuring out how to rescue a box from behind a door so you can stick it under a fan, placing a crystal rod on top of the box, then linking the rod to a laser source and activating the fan so the box rises into the air, becoming visible throughout the area and letting you get a beam to a section of the map it would otherwise be unable to reach usually makes you feel ultra-clever, because the stars those puzzles unlock aren’t easy to come by.  The reward for every puzzle is a sigil, which is basically a Tetris-piece tetronimo used to unlock new areas, so each solved puzzle gets a tangible reward that’s a step towards completion of the final mysteries of the game.

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Closing Comments:

The Talos Principle: Deluxe Edition is a fantastic package of two great first-person puzzlers.  It’s basically identical to the PC version, so if you’ve got those already there’s not much need to double-dip, but otherwise it’s a must-own.  The environments are gorgeous, the puzzle design excellent and while the two stories may be a bit heavy-handed in their philosophical overtones, it’s an interesting world with some wonderfully human moments in its mysterious apocalypse.  Whatever it was that happened is long gone and the virtual world is a remnant of that time, and now that’s fading too.  Solving intricate puzzles may not seem like the best way to save a slowly dying computer simulation of a world, but when they’re this well designed, it’s worth taking the time to give your brain a nice workout on the way to salvation.