2014’s The Talos Principle was a surprise hit for Croteam, a developer more famous for the mindless, tongue-in-cheek shooter, Serious Sam, than philosophy and esoteric puzzles. It’s time to delve into The Talos Principle 2 and ponder, once again, the concept of free will, and what it is to be human, whilst solving puzzles in a world where mankind is but a distant memory.
If The Talos Principle was an indie movie that did very well for itself The Talos Principle 2 is the big-budget Hollywood sequel. The game expands on the original in its more accessible plot and open-world gameplay. Whereas the first game kept its cards to its chest, this one is a little more revealing.
After a “calibration” sequence that looks a lot like the first game, The Talos Principle 2 drops the player into the android body of 1K. 1K is the last of a race of new “humans”, androids who consider themselves to be the descendants of the long-gone human race. 1K completes a preordained “Goal”: to populate the city of New Jerusalem with 1000 androids.
At a ceremony to mark the achievement of “the Goal” a strange giant hologram appears above the city seemingly an invite, mysteriously interrupted. A group of androids, that includes 1K, sets out to find the origin.
After the introduction, the main game starts by allowing the player to explore the massive city of New Jerusalem. This huge open-world design is replicated throughout the game. The Talos Principle 2 is one of the first games off the starting block to embrace Epic’s Unreal Engine 5. The result is quite an astounding and breathtakingly beautiful game.
From the vast vistas to the ray-traced reflection and ambient occlusion, it’s a great showcase for what we can expect from the new game engine. The lighting and textures are incredibly realistic. I played the game on a powerful gaming desktop with an RTX 4090 as well as a humble laptop with an RTX 4060 GPU. Both ran the game superbly. The implementation of both AMD’s FSR and Nvidia’s DLSS means that even gamers with more humble machines will get great performance and visuals from the game.
After wandering about the city for a bit, petting cats (that have, as you’d expect, outlived humans), and reading amusingly incorrect “facts” associated with old human relics, it was time for me to get going. All is not perfect in New Jerusalem, suggesting that more than a little human DNA is tied into the androids’ programming.
We flew to a new island where vast and architecturally amazing megastructures are surrounded by woodlands hiding ruins and abandoned gardens. The serene landscape was peppered with beautiful water features and mysterious structures.
The game location is made up of a series of hub areas, each with a series of puzzles that need to be solved to move on to the next. An ancient transport network connects the areas. Completing the main puzzles at each location provides your companions with the data needed to access new stations on the transit system. Completing each area also triggers the massive network of devices required to access the pyramid structure at the centre of the island.
This sequel still retains the same sort of puzzle elements from the first one, with a few new mechanics thrown in for good measure. The game does a good job of introducing each puzzle mechanic rather than throwing you in at the deep end. You never once feel like you are being punished, the logic of the game being fair, if sometimes challenging.
For the most part, the puzzles involve opening forcefields using light receivers to get access to switches, which in turn trigger other locks. To progress players are given access to tripod-mounted tools that can manipulate light and physically affect the environment. There are also blocks that can be used to press floorplates, or used as a platform for elevating tools via fans.
The genius of the puzzles is that they are not really that complicated. They can be crafty and testing, but most are deceptively simple. I often found myself rolling my eyes when I solved them, reflecting on how over-complicated I’d seen the challenge.
Away from the obvious puzzles, there’s lots to explore and discover. The backstory offers another layer to the game. Hidden laboratories contain prototypes of the various tools that the game slowly reveals to the player. Other, seemingly incomplete puzzles offer additional bonuses. Strange ethereal holographic projections, video logs, and messages invite players to dip into the philosophical ponderings that underwrite the game’s plot.
The story is intriguing, but not essential if you are just into puzzles. I found the game’s mystery intriguing, especially the almost Portal-like behind-the-scenes elements, but I wouldn’t fault anyone for just solving the puzzles.
The Talos Principle 2, like its predecessor, is a phenomenal game that shouldn’t be overlooked. The plot may seem a bit highbrow at times, but you can just focus on the spectacle of it all and the gorgeous visuals. The puzzles are sublime in both their cunning design and their crafty simplicity. This is a game that’s easy to recommend, especially if you are after something a little different.