It is very easy for a video game to draw inspiration from the blockbuster. There is a craft to perfecting gunplay and timing explosives, but the gaming audience is usually forgiving of a lackluster thrill ride. It is a bit harder for a game to nail a serious tone. Requiring patience and forgoing fantastical elements can lead to players mocking a game’s narrative or succumbing to boredom and moving on. Humor is a big reason why Portal was able to tell its story so effectively, and that was the hook that propelled the game to mainstream success. The Turing Test has a different hook, succeeding in capturing a late 60s hard sci-fi edge that few other games have dared to try.
On a moon base orbiting Jupiter, Eva Turing is awoken to achieve a goal. The rest of the Europa mission’s crew have gone missing deep inside the moon’s core, and it’s up to Eva and her artificial companion Tom to navigate past rooms of obstacles and discover what became of them. Each room is solved using the Energy Manipulation Turn, a shotgun shaped tool that transports spherical batteries around the level. Powering the right devices at just the right time will open the door and give you an exit. By the end, players will be mastering the use of crates, robotic drones, and magnetic cranes on their quest to meet up with the lost crew.
In the moment to moment gameplay, The Turing Test achieves a pacing that is unmatched in the realm of first-person puzzling. When playing through these types of games, I find that I can get hung up by abstract solutions. In these cases, I’ve sometimes spent hours on a single puzzle or just threw my hands up and looked up the answer. I never felt overwhelmed by anything that The Turing Test threw at me since each mechanic was slowly introduced and added to my arsenal along the way. There were a few frustrating spots here and there, but it is generally a matter of trying everything that is possible and finding the one way to go about navigating the room. There usually aren’t any distractions around to trick the player into barking up the wrong tree, and this makes every puzzle rewarding instead of punishing.
Instead of being frustrated by solutions, The Turing Test sometimes frustrated me with its controls. I played the game on an Xbox One controller, and it was smooth sailing as long as I was just launching balls of energy around. However, some of the more advanced maneuvers and platforming required later on in the game felt a bit less than precise. It’s a minor issue considering how much the game gets right, but it’s definitely noticeable, and there’s nothing worse than knowing what you have to do to solve a puzzle and failing because of execution.
To break up the monotony, the game feeds you a steady stream of narrative chambers where you can listen to audio logs and read documents left behind by the crew. The story is doled out slowly, with a new bit of dialogue between Tom and Eva arriving with each new room that you enter. Players who persevere through the harder optional chambers will get some high-minded hints on where everything is heading. I was impressed at how well every piece of the puzzle was put together, and the few times that the game feels the need to hammer points home are disappointing considering how well crafted and subtle the rest of it is.
Of course, I can’t mention the game’s subtlety without briefly touching on what is achieved with mood. The light strings of piano that accompanies every level help get players in the correct mindset for their journey. The few glimpses that players get outside of the base really portray outer space as this vast and unknowable void. Humanity is not the master of this moon, we’ve just stumbled upon it, and we’ve barely survived the trip. I’ve been to other planets countless times in video games, but the realism here really made me feel like an astronaut in a way that was exciting and new, and that’s worth celebrating.
By the end of my six hours with The Turing Test, I was very satisfied. Like any good sci-fi, the game makes you think as the credits roll. Without giving it away too much, the way the story plays with perspective hit me in the same way that some of my favorite games of the last couple of years have, and that alone makes it worthy of high praise and a solid recommendation. The game may not be rated M, but The Turing Test is a mature minimalist tale of artificial intelligence that will intrigue anyone smart enough to traverse its test chambers.
The Turing Test was reviewed with a controller on PC via Steam with a code provided by the publisher. It is also available on Xbox One.
The Turing Test strikes an impressive balance between Portal and Planet of the Apes that will keep players blasting through the test chambers in search of more answers.