Review: The Talos Principle 2 – Plato in an escape room
Puzzles. Philosophy. The need for running shoes. The Talos Principle 2 aims to combine an open world, an in-depth story and stacks of puzzles into one game. Though this doesn’t always succeed, it’s still a lot of fun.
In the blink of an eye, the doors open and several dozen androids welcome me into New Jerusalem. After all, I’m the very last of my kind to be brought to life. With humanity having died out long ago, the world is ruled by robots. «Humans», as the humanoid robots call themselves, have limited their number to 1,000. And I’m the thousandth. My name? 1K.
It doesn’t take The Talos Principle 2 long to make its premise – dealing with serious existential questions – unmistakably clear. Who am I? Why am I here? What’s my purpose in this world? To create or to destroy? Or even a mixture of both? These are the sorts of philosophical questions that underpin The Talos Principle 2.
Shortly after my birth, an oversized Prometheus appears and addresses the dumbfounded robots. Every minute reveals yet another allusion to Greek mythology, religion, great thinkers and science fiction. A prime example? When I’m offered a Faustian pact with the devil before I’ve even left the capital. The serial number of this unsavoury android? 666.
Amor fati: the love of one’s fate
As a newly born messiah, I only briefly explore the capital of New Jerusalem before I’m sent on a mission to a mysterious island. Something’s up with the energy there. And this isn’t the only mysterious thing. In fact, on its few square kilometres of surface area, the island offers every imaginable biome – from desert, to jungle, to polar landscape – all conveniently separated by railways. What a handy geographical coincidence! Or is it just a trick deployed by the game designers to inject some variety into the repetitive puzzle game and make all the expensive assets they’ve bought worth their while?
We soon get to the bottom of the mystery. Only by solving puzzles and allowing ourselves to be philosophically cross-examined by virtual Greek deities can we gain access to a massive pyramid. We answer rhetorical questions, get knocked back and are interrogated even more. The thing that overwhelms me at the beginning of the game ends up becoming fun. There are no wrong answers to these morally charged questions. Cutscenes only have a marginal influence on the course of the game, and the puzzles don’t change either.
Panta rhei: everything flows
With this in mind, I’m led to wonder why the developer, Croteam, was compelled to wrap the game’s puzzle-based core in so much open-world cotton wool. The star of the game is its Portal-style puzzles, peppered with flecks of Tetris and The Witness. They’re enjoyable little tidbits in enclosed areas, similar to mini escape rooms. Each of the twelve areas contains eight puzzles, which I don’t necessarily need to complete in order. I work through them in first-person perspective. There’s a third-person camera too. However, since my character’s movements are stiffer than Rocco Siffredi’s in «Cafe der Lust», I’m happy to do without the change of perspective.
So let’s get to the meat on these philosophical bones. The puzzles are simple at the beginning, consisting of just a few components. I redirect colourful laser beams into receivers to open doors, place crates on floor switches and activate fans that blast me up into the air. The puzzles become increasingly complicated as I go along, with new equipment constantly added to expand my options. If I complete an area or get stuck, I can move on to the next puzzle and unlock ever more areas. In addition to these main puzzles, there are optional side puzzles that are trickier to solve. If I get stuck, I can walk around the area and search for shiny items that let me skip puzzles. Aside from this, audio logs and human artefacts are meant to give you an incentive to explore the world. As The Talos Principle 2’s great strength is its puzzles, I skipped most of this open-world stuff.
Tempus fugit: time flies
While the first few puzzles have a «round peg, round hole» kind of vibe, The Talos Principle 2 cranks things up a notch in the second half of the game. I lost track of time on several occasions, working on puzzles late into the night before going to bed frustrated at my failure to crack them. I’d then boot up the PC again half an hour later because of an epiphany I had just as I was falling asleep. That’s my minimum requirement for a good, challenging puzzle game. At the same time, I never had to grab a pen and paper to solve anything. As a result, The Talos Principle 2 misses out on clinching my gold standard for tricky puzzles.
The game is drawn out by the fact I practically need to run a half marathon between puzzles in the expansive levels. Not only that, but my expedition party keeps interrupting me to pester me with new discoveries. The voice-acting ranges from «just fine» to «appalling». Not that I can hold that against the game – the characters are robots, after all, and they’ve had to learn human language. I don’t begrudge them sounding like your fame-hungry uncle whose amateur plays you endure once a year. It’s funny that the characters in the English-language version speak a wild variety of dialects. But again, how can you blame them? As one of my robot companions (who’s not exactly blessed with a genteel accent) explains, they were all given different language libraries when they were created. I couldn’t help smirking at scenes like this.
Alea iacta est: the die is cast
The Talos Principle 2 is like Icarus soaring towards the sun in its attempt to juggle a narrative experience and a self-contained puzzle game, all wrapped up in a philosophical universe. It’s a Herculean task. Nier: Automata explores the themes of existentialism, morality and the consciousness of artificial intelligence with more precision. Meanwhile, Portal combines narrative with puzzles more skilfully. And the puzzles in The Witness are trickier. Nevertheless, The Talos Principle 2 is no flop.
The overall package of good puzzles, a gripping story and expansive levels I can (but don’t have to) explore makes The Talos Principle 2 a must-have for fans of puzzle games. The comfortable difficulty should also suit people new to puzzle games.
Talos Principle 2 is available to download for X-Box, PlayStation, PC, Mac and Linux and costs around 30 francs.Header image: Croteam/Devolver Digital
When I flew the family nest over 15 years ago, I suddenly had to cook for myself. But it wasn’t long until this necessity became a virtue. Today, rattling those pots and pans is a fundamental part of my life. I’m a true foodie and devour everything from junk food to star-awarded cuisine. Literally. I eat way too fast.