The Talos Principle, Croteam’s philosophical puzzler about artificial intelligence, the existence of God, and moving laser beams around in ancient-seeming spaces to open force fields, was one of my top three games of last year. OK, it was exactly No. 3, if you must know, followed in ascending order by South Park: The Stick of Truth and The Last of Us: Left Behind, the short prequel to The Last of Us. I called it “one of the most literate and thoughtful games I’ve encountered” in a review in The New York Times.
Croteam released an expansion to The Talos Principle on Thursday, The Road to Gehenna, and so far I’ve played the first of the four new areas in Gehenna. You play as Uriel, one of the mysterious messengers from The Talos Principle, who is asked by Elohim, the game’s godlike figure, to free some of his followers whom he now regrets locking away in, um, Gehenna.
The game is still philosophically inclined, alternating between the force-field puzzles and exceptionally well-written interactive text. And it’s still focused on the relationship between technology and consciousness. It’s still influenced by Philip K. Dick. (There is literally a found text in the game about electric sheep.) There are still Jeff Goldblum jokes.
This time, however, the game appears to be a comedy, possibly about Reddit, possibly influenced by Dave Eggers’ critique in The Circle of the pernicious effects of the Internet’s attempt to quantify everything. I’ll have more to say when I finish The Road to Gehenna, and find out whether I’m right about any of that.
If you haven’t played The Talos Principle, you should! Here’s a chunk from my review in January:
Elohim is the first name given to God in the Hebrew Bible, but the mysterious voice of The Talos Principle clearly isn’t meant to be That Guy. Uncovering exactly who he is and why he has put you there requires solving a series of puzzles. Elohim has hidden Tetris-shaped sigils behind locks and gates of escalating complexity. Beams of light, and later cubes and fans, must be arranged in intricate geometric webs to reach the sigils, which then must be rotated and assembled into rectangles, which open doors that lead you to evermore brain teasers.
As pleasing as these challenges are, The Talos Principle is as much a game about reading as it is a game about puzzling through logic exercises. A series of computer terminals are placed throughout Elohim’s world. By using them, the player can read found texts — whether poetry, philosophical digressions or Internet chat logs. Unlike the insipid text that most video games ask players to plow through, these readings are routinely engaging, clever and thought-provoking.
Even more rewarding are a player’s encounters with the Milton Library Assistant, the game’s rough equivalent to Eden’s serpent. Elohim forbids the player from climbing a tower that contains knowledge of the world beyond. The assistant inside the terminals urges the player to ascend anyway. Like Lucifer in “Paradise Lost,” the Milton Library Assistant is a more fascinating creature than the remote and inscrutable Elohim.