If there is one thing I appreciate in most first-person puzzlers, it's how much care it takes to set up their premise. Since Portal, most of these games have presented their challenges as a set of test chambers for the protagonist to navigate, and coming up with new scenarios that trap hapless heroes in sterile environments to escape from is a thankless task. Like most of what it does, the early parts of The Turing Test pulls this off with ease, presenting interesting story elements that contribute to the genre rather than merely copying from its predecessors.https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OId8P_r1k-c
Don't get me wrong. There are plenty of things that The Turing Test does take from Portal and its many successors. However, where most have tried to crib the signature sense of humor as well as the gameplay structure, Turing Test is happy to delve into a more contemplative territory. The conversations between astronaut Ava Turing and the robotic intelligence monitoring a station on Europa are fascinating. Each new bit of dialogue was a grand reward that made every completed puzzle room feel like a small victory.
Speaking of which, the meat of the game is featured in room after room of puzzles featuring The Turing Test's signature tool, the Energy Manipulation Turn. This shotgun-like device can capture and move around spheres of energy which power various devices across the facility. Within the span of a few minutes, a puzzle could have you rotating columns, distributing lasers through windows, and switching off light bridges. By the end of the three worlds I played for this preview, timing and execution were just as important as problem-solving skills, and I felt engaged even after I had figured out what the game wanted me to do.
This feeling of engagement was helped greatly by the game's excellent pacing. Tutorials for new elements are constant, but not overbearing, and the game understands how to build complexity into your mechanics without overwhelming your players. I never felt like I was in over my head in the test chambers, as they all had a logical consistency that was a joy to uncover and follow to its conclusion. Opening doors with glorified batteries might not be as exciting a prospect as jumping through portals or moving around turrets, but the focus on puzzling rather than platforming and danger leads to a game that is much more concerned with exercising the mind.
It's one thing for The Turing Test to scratch the itch of puzzle fans, but it's another to do it while also delivering a top notch presentation. The game is very impressive graphically, setting a serious sci-fi tone from the onset and delivering throughout with sterile multicolored hallways and flashes of contrast from the various puzzle elements. The few glimpses into the outside of Europa were an excellent tease, and I hope to see more as I continue with the game. As for the soundtrack, it consists of a string of repeated piano keys that serves to set a subdued mood. However, I'd be lying if I said that the short loop wasn't annoying in its repetition, and I haven't heard it change throughout my journey.
I went into The Turing Test expecting yet another first person puzzle retread. However, Bulkhead Interactive's debut work impressed me with both its scope and how well it executes what it sets out to do. Its story elements and themes (which I'm purposefully vague about in this piece) are fascinating to consider and really tie the whole package together. If you're willing to escape another gauntlet of tests hosted by a nebulous uncaring AI, The Turing Test is shaping up to be an excellent puzzle game that will stretch your brain in more ways than one.
The Turing Test was previewed on PC via Steam with a code provided by Square Enix. It will be released on August 30th for PC and Xbox One.
Correction: We originally stated The Turing Test would be releasing August 29th. This was in error, as it releases on August 30th and has been corrected.