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The Turing Test Review | The human element

The Turing Test Review | The human element
Carl 'Malkaurai' Phillips

There were numerous times throughout The Turing Test that I asked myself the same question – do I think about solutions in a mechanical way? Have years of rule sets and gameplay restrictions limited my ability to think outside the box? Or am I just an idiot who can’t get out of a room that continues to mock my existence with every failed attempt to escape?

Thankfully, I managed to beat Bulkhead Interactive’s new First Person puzzle title before I was consumed by endless self-doubt, but it was bloody close.

The Turing Test sees the player control Ava Turing, an engineer awoken from cryogenic sleep with orders to find out what happened to the rest of her team on the moon of Europa. With only the station’s AI, named Tom, to guide her, she ventures down to the base only to find a series of trials block her path, puzzles that Tom states can only be solved by a human. So begins Ava’s journey to break through each of these Turing Tests, discover the fate of her crew mates, and learn the truth behind their experiments – all whilst exploring the depths of morality, humanity, and the price of freedom.

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As you might expect from the last point, this does mean The Turing Test is somewhat heavy in tone, but the blend of puzzles and narrative is managed extremely well by Bulkhead Interactive. There are obvious gameplay and thematic similarities to Portal and The Talos Principle in particular, but the way players are asked to think about the human element – and the relationship (or differences) between a human and an AI – is what makes The Turing Test ultimately shine.

It’s clear from the very first moments that the developers have worked hard to create an immersive experience. Much like Ava, the player awakens without any knowledge of what’s actually going on, with the prologue chapter building up the situation with visual clues. There are some excellent moments throughout in this regard, with audio logs detailing past events and abandoned rooms painting the picture further. That said, I was disappointed by the use of interactive objects throughout the game. While it worked mechanically, I felt rotating objects didn’t actually contribute to solving puzzles or (for the most part) add to the narrative. It’s just a shame that more wasn’t made of it, as there was clear potential for its inclusion in the gameplay.

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When it comes to solving puzzles the Energy Manipulation Tool is the main tool at Ava’s disposal, transferring energy orbs between contraptions such as doorways and moveable platforms. Its introduction is done in a helpful manner, easing the player into the gameplay at a steady pace. Likewise, the way gameplay elements are introduced later on is also well paced, ensuring players are comfortable with new mechanics before being thrown a curve-ball. It’s with these breaks to the formula that The Turing Test lives up to its name, as I was suddenly trying to think outside the box to progress (or, in a number of cases, just use my gorram eyes.) I was also grateful that the majority of puzzles didn’t require breakneck reaction speeds to get through, although my twitch-esque skills were needed on a few occasions.

One aspect that I did find curious was the optional chambers throughout the seven chapters. Consisting of the most challenging puzzles in the game, they also feature mechanics that often never popped up on the main path. The rewards for completing flesh out the backstory, making them almost essential to complete, but what struck me as odd was how Ava never makes use of the information she learns from them. I can appreciate that finding a way to do so would have been a technical (and narrative) minefield, but it did feel jarring for a game that thrives on its narrative and philosophical discussion.

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Otherwise, The Turing test does a great job of setting the right tone for the action. The voice cast does a good job of bringing the characters to live (despite a few lines of unconvincing delivery.) However, the performance of Tom is the main attraction, harnessing a mixture of Jeremy Irons and Alan Rickman that brings the all-seeing AI to life. I’ll have to stop discussing this here, though, as any further discussion would venture into spoiler territory, so I’ll move onto discussing the soundtrack which compliments the visual design well. The mixture of piano, vocal and electronic instruments succeeds in creating that dystopian sci-fi tone during the puzzles and narrative reveals. That said, I did find the loops to be on the repetitive side when I was stumped by puzzles in the same chapter. I would have appreciated them being longer and with a touch more variation.

Clocking the game at around seven hours, which includes the optional chambers, it’s difficult to categorically say if it is worth the £15 RRP. As someone who enjoys puzzle games such as these, as well as Sci-fi that explores the definition of humanity (big Blade Runner / Battlestar Galactica / Brave New World fan here) I found it worth every penny. Unfortunately, there is an overall lack of replayability outside of a few moments (or missed optional puzzles) meaning the longevity lies in the discussions its topics conjure up, not in the gameplay.

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I will state, this, though – I feel the narrative would lose its impact if you just watched The Turing Test in Let’s Play form, which is an option I’m sure plenty will consider doing. It is through working out each trial put in Ava’s way that adds to the weight of each conversation with Tom. That, in turn, meant that when I came across one puzzle that had me stumped for over half an hour, I ended up doing the stupidest thing I could think of… and it worked. I felt like I was cheating the game at first, but afterwards I began to wonder if that was the point all along. A machine would just stop after going through all the logical variables, whereas I, a human, succeeded through chaos.

And lots of profanity.

 

Pros:

  • Well paced introduction to gameplay mechanics and difficulty curve.
  • The narrative and gameplay blend together to create an immersive experience.
  • The theme of what humanity means is thought provoking and powerful.

Cons:

  • Interactive objects lack a reason of being and feel like a missed opportunity.
  • The soundtrack, while emotive, can be fairly repetitive.
  • A lack of replayability will make the RRP a sticking point for some.

The Short Version:

Although its longevity will be brought into question, the blend of gameplay & thought-provoking narrative makes The Turing Test a well-crafted sci-fi puzzle title worth playing.

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Platform: PC (Tested), Xbox One

Developer: Bulkhead Interactive

Publisher: Square Enix