2 in 1: Talos Isolation

The Talos Principle and Alien Isolation are the two best games I’ve played and completed in the last year. I loved them both, and they are two new favorites of mine.

I decided to include both of these brief reviews in the same post because I’m giving them the same rating — but for very different reasons. I found it interesting to compare the different ways a game can achieve a certain rating from me.

My rating for 2014’s The Talos Principle for PC is…

★★★★½

My rating for 2014’s Alien Isolation for PS4 is…

★★★★½

For Alien, it’s mostly a story of “this game is absolutely perfect in every way, yet not transcendent”. I could make a strong argument to giving this a perfect 5 score if I wanted to: the environment design is amazing, the graphics are amazing, the sound design is AMAZING… I love the pace of the story, the length of the story and where it went, the variety, the mechanics, the voice acting, the moments of deep terror and anxiety that give way to gaming bliss… I think this game is so successful with everything it tried to do, and it was the most exciting first-person shooter I’ve ever experienced. I truly cannot discredit it in any way. But. Part of the definition of a 5-star rating for me is it giving me something new to think about when considering the artistic medium of video games. Alien Isolation is an amazing game that I will never forget, but it doesn’t change the way I think of all other games. I might be inclined to consider this the new standard for this kind of game and compare other horror or shooter experiences to the success of this one, but it isn’t a game-changer. As well, it’s based on a movie, and I tend to want my 5-star games to be a completely original franchise to validate the potential of the medium.

So there it is. Slightly unfair maybe for a game this good… But I would still consider it one of the best games ever made.

For The Talos Principle, it’s a completely different story. This game has officially changed the way I think of games! But. It mixes some undesirable qualities in there as well. This game is actually in no way a “4.5” kind of game; I see it as a combination of a 5-star game and a 4-star game… Thus, 4.5. I’d like to talk a little longer about this one, since I haven’t mentioned it on my blog before.

The Talos Priniciple is a layered puzzle game, where solving the smallest puzzles allow you to solve bigger puzzles while consistently working toward the grandest puzzle that is the meaning of the world it all takes place in. The common setting for puzzles is test-chambers very similar to Portal… only a lot different. Talos’ chambers are naturalistic looking settings rather than looking like a laboratory interior; there’s grass, stones, and what looks like ruins of important historical eras. And instead of progressing through them one-by-one, we have the option to go to any one of the unlocked ones. Each of the three sets of puzzles have different themes: one of them is ancient Greek, another Egyptian, another reminiscent of the Renaissance. That rings a bell, where have I seen that before? Ah yes…

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Crash Bandicoot Warped. There was the castle scenario, the mummy scenario, the futuristic scenario, the Arabian scenario… Talos is strangely like that, only organized in a much more hierarchical way: Within the main construct, there’s three puzzle buildings; within each building, there’s about 8 doorways; within each doorway, there’s 3 to 6 puzzle chambers. Solving each puzzle gets you somewhere closer to unlocking something else which will reveal more puzzles, and the whole thing is very progressive and takes a long time. But satisfyingly.

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But the thing that makes me admire Talos SO much, is how some of the ‘puzzles’ you have to discover for yourself. The game gives you nothing to go on, so exploration, sense, and intuition play a big part. You see, the puzzle “chambers” were, according to the lore of the game, built by the “architect” whom speaks to you regularly throughout the game. He has built them with the expectation of giving you increasingly difficult challenges and testing your resolution. But little does he realize that those puzzles are not the only ones existing in his world. In order to complete the game, all the player must do is finish all of the architect’s puzzles. But throughout the game, you’ll experience things that will inspire your curiosity and cause you to look at things differently, try things differently, and through this discover capabilities you didn’t expect to have, and ultimately realize these new capabilities will manifest in the form of new and interesting puzzles… It’s kind of difficult to explain without giving too much away, but remember that moment in Portal where the game shifts from solving the test chamber puzzles to escaping the facility? Suddenly you are using the portal gun to do things you didn’t expect you’d be doing with it. That happens in Talos, but it’s much much more dynamic and organic. Let’s just say, there’s nothing more exciting than the moment where you realize you can do something the architect wouldn’t want you to be doing… This is a sense of discovery like I’ve never experienced. And that feeling of using your own creativity to discover ability and power, so well planned and executed by this game’s writers and designers, is why this game has changed the way I think of games.

I only have a couple of complaints about Talos:

  1. The screen tearing is really bad, and turning on V-sync caps the frame rate at 30.
  2. The puzzle hints, in the form of “a message to the ancestors” are not worth being in the game. They are super tedious to unlock, and the hints themselves feel very anti-climactic. Just stew over the puzzle and figure it out! Don’t bother with the in-game hint system.
  3. The stupid freaking block puzzles. I hated them. The main puzzles are logic-based and are awesome. So why would the “tetris-sudoku” be involved at all?
  4. Some of the hidden puzzles were a bit too hidden. I eventually reached a point where I was satisfied with all my attempts and looked up the answer; trust me, I care about the integrity of the game and my experience with it, so I wouldn’t have done so if it wasn’t necessary. When I eventually found out what it was, I was really glad I looked it up, because it was something ridiculous I never would have thought of! This only happened to me with four or five of the star-puzzles.

I completed every puzzle in the game, along with going back to experience the other endings. This put me at 33 hours total. This is a very content-rich, dense game, and definitely feels like there is a lot to accomplish. There’s some really nice easter-eggs too. One that freaked the crap out of me…

Talos was surely frustrating at times, but I cared enough to stick with it through the frustration. I cared a lot about this story and this adventure.

Both Alien and Talos were an incredible adventure that I will never forget, and might play again someday. That’s why they are both new favorites.

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