Imagine a world where one of the best puzzle games around is developed by the team behind Serious Sam and published by the outfit behind Hotline: Miami (and, err, also Serious Sam 4), and there’s not a gun, explosion, or chicken-head mask in sight. Well that’s the world we’re living in with The Talos Principle 2, and I’m still not entirely sure it’s real. When I say “one of the best puzzle games around”, I should also add that there are caveats to that. Because The Talos Principle 2 is absolutely a fantastic puzzle game, but it’s also trying to be a lot of other things this time round, and not all of them fully click.
The biggest change is that there’s a proper story in the sequel, with a full cast of characters, a little intrigue, and a lot of wonder, not to mention a few sinister overtones. You’re not just moving from puzzle to puzzle gleaning meaning from flavour text and the occasional voice over. Instead you’re a proper character with dialogue choices and a purpose.
You are 1K, the 1000th artificial “human” (you’re actually 100% a robot) to be “born” in the city. Your coming was foretold, which is why everyone immediately begins asking you for advice despite you being literally minutes old. Your creation signifies a time of change, when the people (also robots) of the city can go beyond it’s walls and finally explore the mysterious ruins in the wilds.
Not surprisingly, The Talos Principle 2 is at its best when it’s letting you solve puzzles. Many mechanics return from the previous game such as the jammers, the floor fans, and the Companion Cube-like blocks. You’ll be blocking refracting laser beams and creating clones of yourself, and also using RGB switchers to alter the colours of certain lasers in order to unlock doors. Few of the puzzles are deeply intricate, but they’re fiendishly crafted, and often when you find the solution you wonder how you didn’t see it right away.
You’ll set out on an expedition with a group of other “humans” to investigate nearby islands, whose secrets are hidden behind multiple layers of puzzles and quandaries. You will travel to a series of different areas connected by ancient technology, and it’s here that the game lets you go free, moving from puzzle to puzzle as your teammates chip in with exposition and mild drama. The characters act very human despite being artificial, and run a gamut of regional accents that would put an open world RPG to shame.
But this, for me, is the biggest problem. Or one of the two biggest problems. The first being that Croteam have added a lot of story where a little would have done it. The first game was succinct, and though it left many questions by the end, it wasn’t a game that left you hungry for answers. At least not for many of us. The sequel seems determined to answer every question it can, even the unasked ones. Characters prattle on for ages, which takes you out of that feeling of solitude and isolation the first game created. In the sequel you’re solving puzzles alone because you’re the only one there, but I kept thinking it’d be easier to get everyone on it, rather than just the newborn.
Also, as beautiful as the world undoubtedly is, there’s far too much of it. A case in point is the city you awaken in after the tutorial. During your awakening ceremony, festivities are interrupted by a wobbly-wobbly swirly cloud of Doom which is what prompts the expedition. But while everyone is literally sitting on the future-jet waiting for you, you’re free to explore the city. While there are many other citizens wandering around, some of whom will ask for your digital signature on stuff you’re not prompted to give two squirts of watery oil about, others will just spout random dialogue. But that’s not the issue; the issue is that there’s so much space between everything.
It’s gorgeous, yes. And I do mean gorgeous. This world is one of the best looking I’ve seen, and no doubt mostly responsible for the disparity between the first game‘s 5gb download size and the sequel’s 75. It’s just a shame it’s all so much window dressing. There’s a whole museum in the city, full of artefacts and relics, all of which are from the first game or this one, and it’s all so weirdly self-congratulatory. Whether you’re particularly invested in this world or not, Croteam certainly are. But it’s unnecessary, and ultimately a pretty but dull affair to trudge around these staggeringly beautiful worlds that are bereft of danger or thrill. They’re just there, and only really serve to keep you away from the interesting elements.
Ultimately, the Talos Principle 2 is a superb puzzle game that seems to want to really get in the way of you solving puzzles – at least initially. Eventually the pace quickens, and you’re even given a certain number of skips that allow you to return to tricky puzzles later. And when I say you’ll probably, most likely, use a few, I mean it. Some of the puzzles are particularly tough and require mastery and understanding of multiple mechanics. One or two I was able to brute force by just trying every combination of laser beam and refractor, but it’s not a method you can abuse.
Though the Talos Principle 2 is very nice to look at, it’s not technically taxing and I had no troubles with slowdown or poor framerates on PC – although my machine did require me to drop some of the settings to medium. You probably don’t need it to be super graphically intense anyway, as you’re mostly looking at walls and scenery.
If you really liked the original but desperately wanted more story, probably add another half a point to the score below, but if you just want more straight-up puzzle-solving, you might get just a little put off by all the talking, all the accents, and all the wasted real estate. Either way, The Talos Principle 2 is still a drop dead gorgeous, incredibly challenging puzzle game.
Makes you feel clever
A lot of exposition
Environments are often too big
Story isn't very compelling