In the beginning, there was light. The Talos Principle opens with a peaceful looking, beautifully serene and gentle flight above the clouds - though all is not as it seems. Onscreen text informs us that a program is loading - and it's here that the game's robotic protagonist awakens, in a seemingly deserted, crumbling temple - albeit one with some clearly advanced technology present. An authoritative voice is heard - identifying itself as your maker - and you're immediately given your motivation: seek out Elohim, your creator, in his temple. Prove that you're worthy.
It's a strikingly simple setup and one in which an immediately intriguing series of questions are brought to mind. Who are you? Why are you here? Who is Elohim? What is this place? There are no easy or immediate answers - and not all information found is definitive - but is the journey to find those answers worth embarking upon?
The Talos Principle arrived in 2014 on PC, with console releases being staggered over the next few years. The Switch is the last major platform to receive a port, but it's a testament to the strength of the game that it still feels fresh and unique, five years on from its original release.
There's very little in the way of hand holding in The Talos Principle; it's a first person puzzle game, with progression tied to completing logic puzzles - mostly in a non-linear order - to collect Tetris-esque sigils; these first unlock the temple, which in turn gives you access to a much wider series and variety of tasks, but also allow access to further tools to complete tasks with. If you find yourself stuck on one puzzle or even one 'world', you can always move on to another and return to try again later.
The puzzles themselves start out pretty straightforward, with elements such as lethal security drones or automatic turrets needing to be shut down using jamming devices found in the environment. Despite this simplicity, it can take a little while to wrap your head around the logic of the puzzles, but there's a real satisfaction in completing them, especially as new layers of difficulty or further elements are added beyond the initial tests presented.
Using blocks, light and even playing with time itself all come into play beyond the initial jamming of gates, drones and turrets - though the possibilities and options for completing the 120 puzzles in the main game increase as progress is made, they're smartly layered on at a pace that means they rarely feel overwhelming, even if solutions aren't always immediately apparent.
The story itself is also wonderfully presented; scattered around the worlds are old-fashioned computer terminals, on which clues to what's going on can be found. Given that the first voice you hear identifies itself as Elohim - the Hebrew word for God - it's perhaps unsurprising that there are so many Biblical and theological references and implications found in the details on these terminals. Sometimes the terminals will engage you in a personality test, with no clear right or wrong answers for many of the questions. Adding to this, there's a somewhat philosophical angle to a lot of the information discovered, with QR codes also sporadically found in the game's environments. These QR codes will often reveal quotes of a spiritual or philosophical nature.
If it feels like this is being vague about the specifics of the story in The Talos Principle, that's entirely deliberate; there's so much satisfaction and joy in discovering the beautiful world and the story - which is open to interpretation anyway, in many areas - that it feels wrong to spoil any of it.
Despite the puzzles being integral to progression, at times - with its gorgeous scenery, non-linear exploration and open worlds - The Talos Principle can feel somewhat like a walking simulator. That term can - and is - often used with negative connotations, but here it's certainly not meant that way. It really is a joy to wander around the often lonely, sometimes serene stages - though at times it feels as if a little more direction would be useful.
The soundtrack is wonderful, with a superbly ambient feel. At times, there are Gregorian monk chants too, further adding to the religious undertones in the game's narrative and references.
There's a few very minor issues with the presentation of The Talos Principle on Switch, though these do feel like nitpicking given the overall quality of the game and how well the Switch handles it in general. The frame rate can sometimes be an issue in docked mode - though it never becomes unplayable or even too much of an issue - and the text on computer terminals can often feel somewhat small, particularly in handheld mode. The only other element that I found to be an annoyance was the loading time between stages, which can be somewhat long.
DLC campaign, The Road to Gehenna, is included in the Switch's Deluxe Edition of The Talos Principle - though a word of warning: it's best to complete the main game before starting the DLC, given that it's set towards the end of the original story.
Though mechanically the game feels unique, comparisons can be made to Portal's spacial, environmental puzzles and even - to a lesser extent - Bioshock, particularly from a thematic point of view. The story itself does have multiple endings depending on choices made and it's well worth aiming to see each one.
Croteam, the creators of The Talos Principle, were previously known primarily for their silly (but fun) Serious Sam titles. The Talos Principle shows a remarkable maturity and depth of scope that's perhaps surprising, but in a very good way. It poses interesting questions, allows the player to progress at their own pace - mostly in a non-linear fashion - and is a hugely satisfying piece of game design. Utterly entrancing and highly recommended.