Every year there’s a Portal. I mean, it’s not called Portal or anything, but every year there’s a puzzle game that wears its influences so obviously on its sleeve so as to invite comparisons. Quantum Conundrum, QUBE, Antichamber, The Talos Principle, and now—for 2016—The Turing Test.
Here, the gimmick is electricity instead of portals. But still, it fits the genre. So, how does it stack up?
Fork in a socket
As you might expect from the title, The Turing Test revolves around similar questions of human consciousness and machine intelligence as The Talos Principle. Hell, there’s a reference to the story of Talos hidden within one of The Turing Test’s optional chambers.
You play as a woman with the bit-too-on-the-nose name of Ava Turing, part of a crew sent to Jupiter’s moon of Europa to drill for energy and search for the possibility of life. A few years into your mission you’re awoken from stasis by an AI named T.O.M. who says communication with the rest of your team has ceased, and you need to find out why.
Arriving on Europa from an orbiting space station, you find that the crew’s living quarters have been rearranged into a series of puzzle chambers, a la Portal, which require “lateral thinking.” This is apparently impossible for T.O.M. (hence the Turing Test title), and so it falls to you to do things like throw boxes through windows and step on switches.
As I said, The Turing Test revolves around electricity—evident by the number of cables draped casually through windows and nailed to the walls. You manipulate the flow of electricity in a number of ways, but most typically by either a) removing fuse-like boxes from walls and placing them in other sockets or b) using your “Energy Manipulation Tool” a.k.a. a gun to suck electricity from the wall and shoot it into new sockets.
That’s an oversimplification, but it’s decidedly more one-note than something like The Talos Principle or Antichamber. Is that a bad thing? Not necessarily. This is a breezy puzzle game, one where the rules are clear, there are only so many possibilities for each room, and the answer always feels just around the corner. I blasted through all seventy of The Turing Test’s main chambers and its seven optional (slightly more difficult) puzzles in about five hours, and came to appreciate the quick pace. It never grinds, never gets stuck for too long.
That lack of friction also works against The Turing Test, though. You burn through the puzzles, and when you’re done it feels like a blur of similar rooms. There’s not really an a-ha moment, no puzzle that really stands out as the culmination of its ideas. It feels like the puzzles never get as hard as they should, or as hard as they had the potential to be. Wonderful set-up, but no payoff.
This is most evident in the aforementioned optional chambers—seven not-so-secret rooms with more playful puzzles, ones that challenge you to use the game’s limited tools in more creative ways. It’s a shame The Turing Test doesn’t provide more rooms in this vein, because I found myself sprinting through puzzle after puzzle trying to get to the next optional room, one that would require slightly more of the game’s vaunted “lateral thinking.”
And reward me with more story. The Turing Test’s plot is as breezy as its puzzles, told mostly through found documents and pace-killing audio logs hidden in the optional rooms and scattered at the end of each ten-puzzle chapter. (Please, developers, if you have to include audio logs at least make it so I don’t have to stand in one place to listen to them.)
The title probably gives you a good idea of the game’s themes—“Can machines think?” “Are they conscious?” “Are they conscious in the same manner as humans?” “Do they make decisions?” “Does free will exist?”
Classic themes, although The Turing Test isn’t nearly as subtle or contemplative as The Talos Principle. There’s quite a bit of backstory to piece together, and playing post-hoc detective in search of the crew makes for ghoulish fun, but The Turing Test doesn’t say much that hasn’t been said by a thousand other robot stories. And it’s so damned earnest about it too.
I don’t want to disparage The Turing Test too much. It suffers by nature of comparisons with other similar games, but perhaps unfairly. With its lightweight puzzles and plot, The Turing Test is one of those “Great-For-An-Afternoon” games, the ones that scratch a specific itch and go down easy. In this case, it’s the “I need something like Portal, but I’ve already played Portal” itch.
Sometimes that’s exactly what you need.