We awaken in a futuristic room with a talking robot looking down at us. He (or it) encourages us to pick up our ‘EMT’, a sci-fi gun which we soon realise can pick up big square boxes and has two modes of firing. All is not—as we later find out—as it seems. The whole thing feels strangely familiar.
Those of you who know Portal, can be excused for thinking I’m reviewing the wrong game, and that this is actually about Valve’s third installment of the series. I’m not, though, hopefully. Instead this is The Turing Test, an independent game developed by Bulkhead Interactive, and to call it a simple re-hash of the classic Portal would be doing it, and its creators, an injustice.
Playing as Ava Turing, an International Space Agency engineer, players are sent to Jupiter’s largest moon Europa with the mission of unearthing the mystery behind the crew’s disappearance. Guided by your robot colleague T.O.M you navigate through 7 chapters, each containing 10 areas, trying to find clues as to what’s happened on this seemingly deserted Europa base. To pass through each area you need to solve the puzzle inside, and when each chapter is completed you’ll be rewarded with a few extra hints as to what’s going on.
As your character Ava can speak, the dialogue and questions between her and T.O.M provide the majority of the narrative: why do the crew seem to be hiding? Why was Ava picked for this mission? What are T.O.M’s intentions, if robots can even have those in the first place? Those of you who recognise the game’s title will be some way to understanding the bigger questions that the game asks. The Turing Test was devised by Alan Turing to see whether or not a computer can convince a person that it is actually a human itself. His main test was to have a computer and a person type on a separate screen, with someone guessing which sounded more human. Another way of performing it is by designing puzzles which only humans can solve – ‘thinking outside the box’ logic. You can see where the rest is going.
The Turing Test, like the Portal series before it, explains the appeal for first person sci-fi puzzlers. The initial 10 minutes will seem elementary, but that’s the point. The game teaches you the basics at first until you get to grips with its mechanics, and then the real puzzles begin. As the difficulty increases with each chapter another gameplay mechanic is introduced alongside new objects, ensuring players stay entertained whilst slowly increasing the difficulty. Therein lies the fun in this game and others like it; players are made to feel more and more intelligent as the game goes on. It produces in players a personal pride that not many other genres can do. Why study for a post-doctorate when you can play clever video games instead?
Puzzles in the game centre run on different coloured electrical currents, all of which power the objects around the rooms, like doors, cameras and magnets. One colour runs constantly, others turn off and on regularly, whilst another keeps the current flowing for just a few seconds. Using your gun you can absorb these as orbs. Working out how, when and where to shoot them in order to make your way to the next area is the main test. It’s an interesting concept, and as you progress the game requires you to use speed, agility and good old fashioned brain power to get the right objects working at the right time. Yet there’s nothing ground-breaking in the level, no reality altering physics. As good as the puzzles are, it’s impossible not to compare it to its gravity defying, mind-bending sibling Portal.
Players can expect to complete the main story in around 6 hours which is short, and the low price reflects this. There are extras scattered in the game that warrant a second playthrough, thhough. Throughout the main story there are items to be picked up and data logs to be searched and read through, enriching the narrative. Dotted around are also secret areas, inaccessible until the game has been finished. I also wouldn’t be surprised to see speedrunners breaking records on Europa, and in fact it’s a shame that the developers haven’t included final time after completion. Seeing how much faster you can go the next time round guarantees re-playability.
Visually the PS4 version is good looking, with crisp and detailed features. The developers have taken the time to apply this across the whole map, so it is graphically satisfying. One thing that is frustrating though, is load screen times. Not an issue at the start, half way through the game there are instances of waiting 30 seconds to a minute when crossing areas. Considering there are 70 areas to move between, that adds up to a lot of waiting time. Yet this is a minor issue, and the fact that it’s one of few shows how well designed and enjoyable a game The Turing Test is.
Many people will look at a segment of gameplay or trailers for The Turing Test and consider it a Portal rip-off. Granted it is very similar and Bulkhead Studios’ inspiration is telling, but there are much worse games to be compared to. This is a game that will please fans of all genres, and it deserves to be recognised as a very good game in its own right.
Now that’s that one wrapped up. Did I pass the test?
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