Portal was a ground breaking game when Valve released it back in 2007, tucked away in the tail-end of The Orange Box compilation. It practically invented the modern first person puzzle game, notably by making something other than killing the focus of the first person gameplay. Since then, many pretenders have come along to try their hand at recreating the test-chamber gameplay, with indie developers paying homage to its addictive and rewarding level based physics challenges with varying degrees of success.
Today sees the release of the latest title to emulate portals now classic test-chamber gameplay. The Turing Test, created by the same team responsible for last years Pneuma: Breath of Life, might just be the best Portal mod there never was.
Waking from a ten year stint in a stasis pod on a ship orbiting one of Jupiters moons, the omnipresent voice of T.O.M. guides you through your first steps into this graphically impressive game world. T.O.M. is, as these kind of overseers usually are, the AI responsible for taking care of the ship and its crew. As you explore the areas of the ship, the second thing you’ll notice – after the beautiful graphics and art direction – is how interactive the game is. Wandering around, listening to the artificial intelligence as it guides you, you’ll find yourself picking up mugs, notes, folders and all manner of things which can be rotated and flipped around. These items aren’t collectable, nor are they central to gameplay, but occasionally poking your nose into something can reveal an extra thing or two about the games back story. It’s a cool touch, and makes the world feel more tactile and alive than all of its clutter just being mere scenery.
Shortly into the games first chapter, you’ll find yourself wielding what looks like a shotgun and standing inside a white room with a simple puzzle to solve. This is where the bulk of the gameplay lies: There are dozens of these rooms which get progressively more difficult over the games eight hour run time. Your objective in each room is the same, to reach the exit and progress into the next chamber, all the while listening to T.O.M. as he watches your every move.
The gun you carry serves a very important purpose: It sucks up balls of energy with the left trigger, and spits them out with the right trigger. These balls of energy can only be fired out into the electronic sockets which decorate every room. Some of these sockets act as a lock – Shoot the ball in, and it unlocks the door next to it. Others act as conduits, lighting up wiring running across the rooms to various devices: Bridges, steps, moving platforms and the like. As the game progresses, the puzzles become more and more difficult to figure out, but one thing always remains: Logic. All of the puzzles can be completed without trickery, or manipulation of the games mechanics in an unorthodox way. In fact, I went out of my way in every single one of the more complex rooms to try and break the game, or have it back me into an unsolvable corner. I experienced ONE scenario where I had to pause the game and select to restart the room – not the entire chapter, which are made up of ten rooms each – and that was because I was TRYING to break it. Unlike some other games, including the original inspiration it has to be said, every single one of the seventy plus puzzles I played through just worked. Like a handmade Sudoku, no matter how difficult it looks you can extrapolate to get to the solution. Simply put: The puzzles are brilliant. You’ll swear blind something is literally impossible, only to have the obvious solution hit you over head with a satisfying thump.
And then I reached a point no one should ever talk about in any review ever. A point which blew my mind. And at that point, my enjoyment and respect became unadulterated love.
The title features a compelling plot which runs parallel to it’s fantastic design. T.O.M. has something to say to you as you approach every single one of the games rooms, and your fully voiced protagonist and the AI engage in conversations which cover all manner of subjects, from the practical to the philosophical. The mood here is serious, and it’s a tone which is kept throughout the experience. I applaud the developers here: Too many games of this type ape Portal’s comedic and sarcastic commentary, including the devs previous title, Pneuma. Here, there are serious questions to be asked, and difficult answers to be given. Again, I’m reluctant to reveal more – the story is compelling, although it does end rather abruptly.
The Turing Test wears its inspiration on it’s sleeve; it’s the most Portal looking non-Portal game I’ve ever played. That doesn’t matter though, as if you think you’ve played through these puzzles before, think again. It’s a game where care has been taken over every detail, and meticulous level design from start to finish, coupled with the great characterisation of the player and her AI partner, makes for a compelling experience. It’s not only one of the finest games in the genre, it’s one of the best Xbox games I’ve ever played. Just do yourself one huge favour: Don’t use a walkthrough! If I can master the game and all of it’s achievements, so can you.
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