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This week, Zero Punctuation reviews Talos Principle.

Transcript Edit

Welp, it's cocks back on on the old grind stone, I suppose. We're all holidayed out and got a fresh, new year ahead of us. And what better way to greet the newly-birthed 2015 than to spin on our heel 180 degrees and review the last few things from 2014, still dangling off it like poo out of a fish's arse. And no, I still don't mean Smash Brothers. The Christmas break for me is a time for relaxing, using troughs and conveyor belts as dining utensils and getting completely bombed out of my skull on Cocksucking Cowboys. I'm not in the right mood for confusing fast-paced spectacle in a clashing rainbow of vibrant bubblegum colours that make me throw up a veritable landslide of Ferrero Rocher. I wanna play something calm, slow-paced and contemplative. So actually I spent most of a fortnight playing a game by the developers of Serious Sam. No really, Croteam went and made a philosophical puzzle game, and it's called The Talos Principle, which is the kind of title that if you saw it on the board outside a cinema, your gaze would immediately ricochet off onto Transformers 9: Even Larger Stuff Breaking.

But dull title aside, you can really tell it's a Croteam game. The look's fairly unmistakeable with the ancient ruins and bright, contrasting sunlight, and impressive skyboxes they didn't bother to fence off, in case anyone wants to explore a repeating sand texture for 20 minutes instead of the actual level where stuff happens, although you do get frogmarched marched back if you venture too far, with is kind of in keeping with the theme. 

You are an unknown consciousness that wakes up in an unknown garden where an unknown intelligence forces you to complete puzzles for an unknown reason. It's like when your parents used to make you sit in the garden and untangle the Christmas lights; and whenever you finished one, you are allowed to come in and watch one episode of The Prisoner. The occasional deliberate texture fuckup (at least I assume they were deliberate, Croteam, winky winky!) leads us to conclude early on that we are inside some kind of simulation. But as to who or what we are and why we're here, we have to piece that together from, all together now, [singing] random documents and audio logs.

I've heard some people compare this game to Portal, 'cause that's the only point of reference these fucking Millennials seem to have. First person puzzlers existed before Portal, did you know. You can make one with having to bow towards Bellevue. I mean just because we're being herded through dangerous puzzle by a redoubtable disembodied voice for what is heavily implied to be some kind of behavioural experiment. OK, maybe it's a bit like Portal, but Talos Principle lacks two things that I would argue are absolutely central to Portal's identity: it doesn't have an innovative central game mechanic around which all else is based, and it has absolutely no sense of humour. But you know, after games like Sunset Overdrive and Sacred 3, very deliberately not trying to be funny I'm willing to count as a virtue.

And I did like the story element. There's a lot of rather dry mythological metaphor wanking in the random documents that I mostly skimmed over, but there are also emails and blogs from people in what is presumably the real world, dealing with the mundanities of life while there's some kind of unclear catastrophe hanging over them that none of that wanted to directly reference, and I found it all very human and engaging.

Certainly motivated me to keep pushing through all the puzzles, which were trying my patience by the end. And as I said, if you have a roving eye for new gameplay mechanics, you can jolly well rove off, squire. Hope you like weighing down switches with boxes and redirecting laser beams and everything else from the "Insert puzzle here"-guide to video game design. And then we introduce a time travel mechanic, where you solve puzzles with temporal clones of yourself. I wish I could time travel back to the Newgrounds Flash programmer who first came up with that, and hold his arms while my temporal clone punches him in the stomach. 

There are also a few obscure object mechanics that the game doesn't explain properly, but bases puzzles around regardless. It's possible, for example, to put boxes on top of the roving proximity mines. It's not fair if you don't make all the rules clear. If I'm stuck in a puzzle game, I prefer it to be because I'm a big thicky-bobo who can't figure out where all the pieces go, not because one of the pieces was still in the box. Forgive me if it didn't occur to me to near the bleeping explodey death ball and repurpose it as a dessert trolley. 

The puzzles we complete in order to collect keys that let us advance to new worlds and eventually escape. They also draw out the pace at which we acquire new story nuggets. So if the puzzles feel kind of vacuous, it's because they could be replaced by literally anything else. Even in context, it's admittedly busywork. It's Link's problem again, forever having to prove our sodding worth, 'cause the ancient ones never even considered that there were probably a great many terribly unworthy people who can figure out how to redirect a laser beam. 

The game may be overlong, as the puzzles seem to be running out of ideas by the end, to say nothing of all the optional ones. There are hidden stars in many levels, and that's all the clues you're getting. "There is a hidden star somewhere in this huge, cluttered map with tons of unused space so Serious Sam-worthy you'd almost expect headless suicide bombers to come screaming around the corner at any moment. Strap on that truffle-sniffing nose and good luck to you, Mister Piggy!" Yeah, not bothering, thanks. 

Also, there are optional puzzles that unlock helpers to use in other puzzles. I'm having a bit of trouble parsing that logic. "Hey, I'm the kind of walking paradox that plays puzzle games but can't be bothered to solve puzzles. And in order of having to avoid having to solve a puzzle, I will now solve a puzzle, which will unlock a thing that will solve the first puzzle for me, and by 'solve,' I apparently mean 'give me a one-line clue as to the solution.'" Which left me a bit put out, cause for the amount of effort involved, I was expecting at least a short walkthrough, and at the end perhaps to get tossed off with a smile. 

So in brief, the game is like so many polystyrene packing peanuts that it feels like it's there to fill all the space between the interesting parts. But honestly, after completing it or at least all the non-optional bits, I can't deny I left the game quite satisfied and prepared to recommend. The fact that I still wanted to keep solving puzzles to explore more gorgeous scenery, get to the bottom of the mystery, and argue philosophy with the MS-DOS prompt, attest enough that the game is engaging and intelligent, which is all the more noteworthy considering where it came from. And when you ask Serious Sam to redirect laser beams, he'd probably just redirect his bollocks into your eye sockets.

Addenda Edit

  • The callous imbecile: Ben "Yahtzee Croshaw"
  • You can avoid dry mythological metaphor wanking through the application of editing and lube
  • Still wanking off the new year calories

Post-credits Edit

[singing, with a slightly drunk voice]

Random documents and audio logs: 
We find them stuck to notice boards,
We find them under dogs.
We're gonna put them in a file
And give it a review
When we're bored of all the gameplay,
But we've nothing else to do.

[sound of a head dropping on a table]

Screenshots Edit

Episodes
2007 - 2010
2007
Q3 The Darkness Demo · Fable: The Lost Chapters · Zero Punctuation (Episode) · Heavenly Sword and Other Stuff · Psychonauts · Console Rundown · BioShock · Tomb Raider: Anniversary · Manhunt · Peggle
Q4 Halo 3 · Tabula Rasa · The Orange Box · Super Paper Mario · Medal of Honor: Airborne · The Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass · Clive Barker's Jericho · F.E.A.R. Perseus Mandate · Assassin's Creed · Guitar Hero III: Legends of Rock · Mass Effect
2008
Q1 Super Mario Galaxy · Silent Hill: Origins · Crysis · The Witcher · Resident Evil: The Umbrella Chronicles · Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare · SimCity Societies · Yahtzee Goes to GDC · Uncharted: Drake's Fortune · Devil May Cry 4 · Burnout: Paradise · Turok · Zack & Wiki: Quest for Barbaros' Treasure
Q2 Army of Two · No More Heroes · Condemned 2: Bloodshot · Super Smash Bros. Brawl · God of War: Chains of Olympus · Mailbag Showdown · Grand Theft Auto IV · Painkiller · The World Ends With You · The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion · Haze · Metal Gear Solid 4
Q3 Webcomics · Lego Indiana Jones: The Original Adventures · Alone in the Dark · Age of Conan: Hyborian Adventures · The E3 Trailer Park · Ninja Gaiden II · Prince of Persia Retrospective · Soulcalibur IV · Braid · EVE Online · Too Human · Spore · XBLA Double Bill
Q4 Mercenaries 2: World in Flames · Star Wars: The Force Unleashed · S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Clear Sky · Silent Hill: Homecoming · Saints Row 2 · Dead Space · Fable II · Fallout 3 · Guitar Hero: World Tour · Mirror's Edge · Left 4 Dead · Sonic Unleashed · The Year in Review - 2008 · Prince of Persia
2009
Q1 Awards for 2008 · Tomb Raider: Underworld · Far Cry 2 · Gears of War 2 · LittleBigPlanet · Thief: The Dark Project · Skate 2 · F.E.A.R. 2 · Spider-Man: Web of Shadows · The House of the Dead: Overkill · 50 Cent: Blood on the Sand · Resident Evil 5
Q2 X-Blades/Halo Wars · Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars · MadWorld · Tom Clancy's H.A.W.X · Siren: Blood Curse · The Chronicles of Riddick: Assault on Dark Athena · Valkyria Chronicles · Velvet Assassin · Duke Nukem Forever · Bionic Commando · InFamous · The Second Annual E3 Hype Massacre · Prototype
Q3 The Sims 3 · Ghostbusters: The Video Game · Overlord 2 · Red Faction Guerrilla · Wii Sports Resort · Call of Juarez: Bound in Blood · The Conduit · Silent Hill 2 · 2.5-D Hoedown · Tales of Monkey Island · Wolfenstein · Batman: Arkham Asylum · Beatles Rock Band & Guitar Hero 5 · Darkest of Days
Q4 Scribblenauts · Wet · Mario & Luigi: Bowser's Inside Story · Brutal Legend · Washington D.C. · Uncharted 2: Among Thieves · Dragon Age: Origins · Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 · Assassin's Creed 2 · Left 4 Dead 2 & New Super Mario Bros. Wii · Demon's Souls · Holiday 2009 · The Saboteur
2010
Q1 Awards for 2009 · Torchlight · Darksiders · Bayonetta · Dark Void · Borderlands · Mass Effect 2 · Dante's Inferno · BioShock 2 · Aliens vs Predator · Heavy Rain · Battlefield: Bad Company 2 · Final Fantasy XIII
Q2 April Fools 2010 · God of War III · Red Steel 2 · Just Cause 2 · Silent Hill: Shattered Memories · Splinter Cell: Conviction · Nier · Dead to Rights: Retribution · Monster Hunter Tri · Alan Wake · Red Dead Redemption · Alpha Protocol · Prince of Persia: The Forgotten Sands · E3 2010
Q3 No More Heroes 2: Desperate Struggle · Super Mario Galaxy 2 · Singularity · Crackdown 2 · DeathSpank & Limbo · Shadow of the Colossus · Split Second: Velocity · Transformers: War for Cybertron · Kane & Lynch 2: Dog Days · Mafia II · Metroid: Other M · Video Game Voters Network · Amnesia: The Dark Descent
Q4 Halo: Reach · Dead Rising 2 · Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions · Castlevania: Lords of Shadow · Enslaved: Odyssey to the West · Fallout: New Vegas · Star Wars: The Force Unleashed II · Call of Duty: Black Ops · IPhone Games · Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood · Splatterhouse · Epic Mickey · Holiday 2010
2011 - 2014
2011
Q1 Top 5 of 2010 · World of Warcraft: Cataclysm · Fable III · Minecraft · A Shadow's Tale · Dead Space 2 · DC Universe Online · MindJack · Two Worlds II · Bulletstorm · Killzone 3 · Kirby's Epic Yarn · Dragon Age II
Q2 Pokémon White · Yakuza 4 · Crysis 2 · Nintendo 3DS · Portal 2 · Castlevania: Symphony of the Night · Mortal Kombat · Brink · L.A. Noire · The Witcher 2 · Hunted: The Demon's Forge · Duke Nukem Forever (for real this time) · InFamous 2
Q3 Alice: Madness Returns · Shadows of the Damned · F.E.A.R. 3 · The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time 3D · Call of Juarez: The Cartel · Bastion and From Dust · Catherine · Red Faction: Armageddon · Deus Ex · Deus Ex: Human Revolution · Driver: San Francisco · Dead Island · Resistance 3
Q4 Gears of War 3 · Hard Reset · Rage · Kinect · Batman: Arkham City · Battlefield 3 · Uncharted 3: Drake's Deception · Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 · The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim · Saints Row: The Third · Assassin's Creed: Revelations · The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword
2012
Q1 Serious Sam 3: BFE · Top 5 of 2011 · Super Mario 3D Land & Rayman Origins · Sonic Generations · Star Wars: The Old Republic · Amy · Resident Evil: Revelations · Darkness 2 · Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning · NeverDead · Syndicate · Mass Effect 3 · Twisted Metal
Q2 Yakuza: Dead Souls · Ninja Gaiden 3 · Silent Hill: Downpour · Kid Icarus: Uprising · Fez and I Am Alive · Prototype 2 · Risen 2: Dark Waters · Sniper Elite V2 · Diablo 3 · Max Payne 3 · Dragon's Dogma · E3 2012 · Lollipop Chainsaw
Q3 Quantum Conundrum · Spec Ops: The Line · Walking Dead · Inversion · The Amazing Spider-Man · Half-Life · Wreckateer and Deadlight · Steam Roundup · Sleeping Dogs · Darksiders 2 · DayZ · Guild Wars 2
Q4 Borderlands 2 · FIFA 13 · Resident Evil 6 · Dishonored · XCOM: Enemy Unknown · Medal of Honor: Warfighter & Doom 3: BFG Edition · Assassin's Creed 3 · Halo 4 · Call of Duty: Black Ops 2 · Hitman: Absolution · Far Cry 3 · ZombiU
2013
Q1 Top 5 of 2012 · Paper Mario: Sticker Star · Black Knight Sword & Hotline Miami · Anarchy Reigns · DMC: Devil May Cry · The Cave · Ni No Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch · Dead Space 3 · Aliens: Colonial Marines · Crysis 3 · Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance · Tomb Raider · SimCity
Q2 The Walking Dead: Survival Instinct · BioShock Infinite · Lego City Undercover · Luigi's Mansion: Dark Moon · Injustice: Gods Among Us · Star Trek · Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon · System Shock 2 · Metro: Last Light · Next Gen Buyer's Guide · Fuse · Remember Me · E3 2013
Q3 The Last of Us · Deadpool · Animal Crossing: New Leaf · Ride to Hell: Retribution · Dark · Mario & Luigi: Dream Team · Rise of the Triad · Papers, Please & Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons · Pikmin 3 · The Bureau: XCOM Declassified · Saints Row 4 · Killer is Dead · Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs
Q4 Grand Theft Auto V · Lost Planet 3 · Beyond: Two Souls · The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker HD · Batman: Arkham Origins · Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag · Call of Duty: Ghosts · Exclusives Showdown · Ryse: Son of Rome · Dead Rising 3 · Super Mario 3D World
2014
Q1 Top 5 of 2013 · Knack · Killzone: Shadow Fall · Survival Special · Broken Age · Might & Magic X: Legacy · The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds · Dark Souls · Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII · Strider · Thief · Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2 · Dark Souls II
Q2 Titanfall · InFamous: Second Son · Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes · The Elder Scrolls Online · South Park: The Stick of Truth · FTL: Faster Than Light · Child of Day-Light · The Amazing Spider-Man 2 · Tesla Effect: A Tex Murphy Adventure · Wolfenstein: The New Order · WATCH DOGS · E3 2014 · Murdered: Soul Suspect
Q3 Tomodachi Life · Enemy Front & Valiant Hearts: The Great War · Shovel Knight · EarthBound · Transistor · E.T. · Firefall · Sacred 3 · Risen 3: Titan Lords · Daikatana · Lichdom: Battlemage · The Sims 4 · Destiny
Q4 D4: Dark Dreams Don't Die · Hyrule Warriors · Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor · Alien Isolation · The Evil Within · Bayonetta 2 · Sunset Overdrive · Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare · Assassin's Creed: Unity · Far Cry 4 · Dragon Age: Inquisition · Sonic Boom: Rise of Lyric · Top 5 Games of 2014
2015 - 2017
2015
Q1 The Talos Principle · Elite: Dangerous · Five Nights at Freddy's and This War of Mine · Lords of the Fallen · Saints Row: Gat out of Hell · Dying Light · Grim Fandango · Evolve · The Order: 1886 · The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask 3D · Resident Evil Revelations 2 · Hotline Miami 2: Wrong Number & Ori and the Blind Forest
Q2 Battlefield: Hardline · Bloodborne · Half-Life 2 Update · Axiom Verge & Stealth Inc 2 · Mortal Kombat X · Grand Theft Auto Online · Broken Age: Act 2 · Wolfenstein: The Old Blood · Cyberpunk Double · The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt · Splatoon · Hatred · E3 2015
Q3 Alone in the Dark: Illumination · Batman: Arkham Knight · Yoshi's Woolly World · Cave Story · Godzilla · Rocket League & Tembo the Badass Elephant · King's Quest: A Knight to Remember · Nom Nom Galaxy & Freedom Planet · Everybody's Gone To The Rapture · Volume · Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain · Mad Max · Gears of War Ultimate Edition · Until Dawn
Q4 Super Mario Maker · SOMA · Rock Band 4 · Assassin's Creed Syndicate · Halo 5: Guardians · Call of Duty: Black Ops 3 · Rise of the Tomb Raider · Fallout 4 · Star Wars: Battlefront · Just Cause 3 · Fatal Frame: Maiden of Black Water
2016
Q1 Top 5 Games of 2015 · Devil's Third · Mario & Luigi: Paper Jam · Assassin's Creed Chronicles · Xenoblade Chronicles X · The Witness & Bombshell · Gravity Rush · XCOM 2 · Firewatch & Layers of Fear · Far Cry Primal · Stardew Valley & SUPERHOT · The Division · Salt and Sanctuary
Q2 Republique · Shadow Warrior · Quantum Break · Dark Souls III · Ratchet & Clank · Star Fox Zero · Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door · Uncharted 4: A Thief's End · Doom · Homefront: The Revolution · Overwatch & Battleborn · Mirror's Edge: Catalyst · E3 2016
Q3 Mighty No. 9 · Inside & Shadow of the Beast · The Technomancer · Furi & Song of the Deep · I Am Setsuna · Headlander & Quadrilateral Cowboy · Quake · No Man's Sky · Grow Up · Deus Ex: Mankind Divided · Metroid Prime: Federation Force · The Curious Expedition & Mother Russia Bleeds · ReCore
Q4 Capcom Five · Clustertruck & Lichtspeer · Paper Mario: Color Splash · Mafia III · Gears of War 4 · PlayStation VR · Battlefield 1 · Titanfall 2 vs Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare · Dishonored 2 · WATCH DOGS 2 · Final Fantasy XV · The Last Guardian
2017
Q1 Top 5 Games of 2016 · Let It Die · Dead Rising 4 · Hitman · Gravity Rush 2 · Resident Evil 7 · Yakuza 0 · Nioh · For Honor · Nintendo Switch & Breath of the Wild · Horizon Zero Dawn · Nier Automata · Ghost Recon Wildlands
Q2 Mass Effect Andromeda · Yooka-Laylee · Persona 5 · Remastered Editions · Outlast 2 · Sniper: Ghost Warrior 3 · Prey · Wilson's Heart · The Surge · Injustice 2 · Vanquish · E3 2017 · Strafe

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