The Talos Principle 2 is a Pretty, Profound Puzzler

The Talos Principle 2 Preview

One of my fondest gaming memories was the weeks I spent in 1993, slowly combing through the original Myst. The puzzles were inventive and the art was — for its time — startling. Solving the game’s mind-benders was a solitary affair. By and large, the internet was the domain of message boards and not terribly easy to search. I thought of Myst back in 2014 while playing The Talos Principle, and again more recently, spending some time with The Talos Principle 2. Whether you think of The Talos Principle 2 as a philosophical sci-fi adventure with puzzles or a puzzle game first matters little. It’s both.

I, Robot

2014’s The Talos Principle is highly regarded as one of the best puzzle adventure games of its generation. It has an array of well over one hundred devious environmental and mechanical puzzles. It boasts a thoughtful narrative concerning a robot seeking human sentience. The game explores the philosophical battleground of the potential for AI to change human civilization.

Ten years later, The Talos Principle leaps into a story in which biological humanity has gone extinct and the sentient robots are exploring the limits of their civilization on an island. The Talos Principle remains underpinned by some heady themes about the nature of humanity, culture, and the reach of authority. At its core, there’s a mystery, a  structure at the heart of the city that must be explored and understood.

If that seems a little vague, it’s both intentional and unavoidable. I don’t want to spoil any surprises. Plus, I’ve only had hands-on time with a small slice of the game, essentially the first 25% of a 20-hour-plus experience.

Devious Head-Scratchers

The gameplay I’ve experienced so far will absolutely please fans of the first game. Even better, it might be more welcoming to new players. There are a dozen or so distinct zones, and moving forward requires the player to solve a series of eight, increasingly obtuse puzzles. However, in a nod to player sanity, some puzzles can be skipped thanks to objects found during exploration. These can be returned to later. As long as the player completes a minimum number of puzzles, they can move on. For the puzzle-solving geniuses, there are bonus, extra-hard challenges as well.

The puzzles begin simply, with the player only needing to manipulate a single object or device, but ramp up exponentially. For The Talos Principle 2, the developers have added a slew of new toys and abilities. One of the most notable is a multicolored light gun that requires players to mix specific shades from the primary colors to solve puzzles. By the end of a level, puzzles are multilayered and are the kinds of challenges that mere mortals may take a good amount of time to figure out. But again, some of these may be skipped.

When Puzzles Actually Fit

I’ll admit a certain frustration with some puzzle games when the tasks seem arbitrary and unnecessary. Why shine a beam of light on a plate to lower a platform to trigger another sequence? Wouldn’t a lock and key would do the job? You wonder if the population ever goes anywhere. To its credit, though, The Talos Principle 2 does a good job of integrating its puzzles into both the story and exploration.

The Talos Principle 2 looks impressive, too, with lots of mysterious architecture that echoes ancient human civilizations and more sci-fi-themed environments. Sound and music design are atmospheric, precise but unobtrusive.

Puzzle games do have one, unavoidable flaw, which is the lack of replayability. After all, once you’ve solved a puzzle there isn’t much incentive to return. The Talos Principle 2 addresses this in a couple of smart ways. One, the game is reasonably priced and has an attractive value proposition. Second, the ability to skip some puzzles and save them for later gives the game a reason to be returned to. Finally, the story is nuanced and interesting enough — with multiple endings — that it repays replays.

I enjoyed my short time with The Talos Principle 2. I’m not the best puzzle-solver but, like with Myst back in the dark ages, it’s a great feeling when you crack the code.

Thank you for keeping it locked on COGconnected.

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