The Talos Principle: Croteam Has The Most Chill E3 Demo

A funny thing happened on the way to Serious Sam 4.

The folks at Croteam were trying to figure out an alternative to the old standard “red key unlocks the red door” mechanic, and so they designed some Portal-ish first-person puzzles for Sam Stone’s next adventure. Except they liked the puzzles so much they decided to just make a game about them, dubbed The Talos Principle..

It’s not just puzzles, though, even if that’s the main thrust here. Croteam hired writer Tom Jubert (The Swapper, Penumbra) to flesh out the game and give it some meaning, and he did just that. The Talos Principle is a game about a robot who must solve the puzzles and listen to a God-like voice from the heavens speak to you. There are also some computer terminals you can interact with that will pose some rather strange philosophical queries to you about the nature of free will, existence itself and so forth, and your responses will affect how events play out, or so Jubert assured me.

But the puzzles, man, the puzzles. I called them Portal-ish above, but that’s not a perfectly apt description because there was no twitch element to the four puzzles I played. You don’t need to be fast or quick or good with the mouse in order to complete these, as they are simply thinking puzzles. So it’s like Portal, but without the emphasis on a skilled execution.

I’ll give you an idea of what we’re dealing with here. The demo I played featured four puzzles in escalating difficulty (easy, medium, hard and extreme), and I wasn’t given a tutorial, instead just having at it without help from the Croteam guys standing behind me. Even so, the concepts weren’t too complicated for a veteran gamer like me (oh ho ho) to pick up pretty quickly. The hard puzzle involved using tripods (you can pick them up and move them) to direct beams of energy from a source to switches that would open doors. The catch is that you can’t cross the red and blue beams, and you also can’t direct those beams through the same tripod. Very tricky, but it never felt daunting, and the puzzle area was small enough that I would survey most of it from one spot and plan my moves — and small enough that making changes to the tripod layout was not an annoying task.

Like Portal, other puzzles include floor buttons you have to set objects on to open doors, and the function of those aforementioned tripods will change depending on the context of the puzzle, as they may instead hold open force field doors or jam a turret blocking your path, for example.

Interspersed with the physical puzzles are some oddities that involve making some given Tetris pieces fit in a rectangular space. These are quite tough and involve a lot of experimentation, but they serve as a pretty effective change of pace from the first-person puzzles.

The important thing about the puzzles, though, is that they were engaging and creative. I played for the better part of an hour, and I wanted to keep going. That’s a rarity for me at events like E3 that are full of vertical slices of games that do a poor job of selling the full experience. The Talos Principle demo, though, felt like the full game in miniature, as it described the balance of the experience between the various puzzle types and interactions with the strange being in the computer.

Today, The Talos Principle feels inspired, a calm, thoughtful experience in the midst of the same sorts of video game madness we’ve always had. That Croteam would be responsible for it, out of all the devs at E3, feels like a big deal. The Serious Sam people made the chillest demo I saw/played at E3, and that is good.

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