Warning: this post includes some spoilers for The Talos Principle 1 and 2. If you intend to play them — and you should! — do it first and come back later.
I do not have much free time since the birth of my first son in 2020, so I have almost entirely given up video games. But I had to make an exception for The Talos Principle 2, which was released last November and which I finished earlier this week.
The Talos Principle came out in 2014, but I only played it in late 2021 and it instantly became one of my favorite games. On the surface, you play a robot solving puzzles, but it is actually a game designed to make you think, rooted in philosophy.
The first game touched on the themes of AI and consciousness, free will, religion, and the perils of progress among others. The second game expands on that last theme and adds more such as society / politics and (late game) the nature of love.
In both games, there are several layers to the story. The “main scenario” takes place in the “physical world” but a lot of content is accessed through text found in computer terminals, audio logs, text adventure games, an in-game BBS, or even inside your own subconscious. Some characters are very impactful, and yet you never interact with them otherwise than through messages they left here and there. One such character is Lifthrasir, and I cannot resist quoting some of his messages here:
When you sit in the dunes and you hear only the wind, and nothing else at all, and all the complexities of civilization fade away, you truly understand that spiritual peace is a great evil, a kind of shallow banality that we must always strive against. It is spiritual excitement and enthusiasm which sustain our humanity; spiritual peace is a vile and cowardly surrender to oblivion.
That is what we do now, we seek facts rather than truth, because truth might frighten and unsettle the comfortable people who like to sit in their conference rooms and debate which corners we should cut today.
A core theme of the game is whether Humanity should face extinction risks it causes to itself (e.g. climate change) through restraint (limiting energy consumption and population growth etc) or techno-solutionism and growth (including becoming an interstellar species). Your choices about this issue influences the scenario of the game, and some characters are avatars of one way or the other as well as several middle-ground options. In the techno-solutionist camp are Byron and Melville. The latter is the engineer on your team, so for obvious reasons I can sympathize with her. A quote that resonated with me:
All we do anymore is think about the worst case scenario. You know, I didn’t even realize how much I’d limited my own imagination, how I talked myself into just accepting this incredibly poor future we’d been offered. A future where things just keep getting slightly worse every day and we accept it because we’re ashamed of ourselves. Not of something we’ve done, but just of our existence. Like we’re a virus on this planet. Like our existence is a sin.
In any case The Talos Principle 2 is, perhaps even more than the first one, a game that will make you think. It will force you to consider philosophical and ethical issues and make choices about them. You could say it’s a giant trolley problem, but that wouldn’t make it justice: it is much more than that. It is not everyday a work of fiction changes my view of some important issues, and this game did.
Oh, and the puzzles are fun, too!
If you haven’t played the Talos Principle series, I hope this post encouraged you to try it. I recommend starting with the first game if you can, since the second one has major spoilers. Personally I think you can skip the Road to Gehenna DLC if you are short on time.