May not machines carry out something which ought to be described as thinking but which is very different from what a man does?
Alan Turing is considered one of the founding fathers of computer science. His is one of the most quoted and revered minds in the history of the world. He was also ahead of his time. His writings on the future of computers and artificial intelligence are deeply rooted in the lessons that are carried on today by futurists like Ray Kurzweil and Nick Bostrom. He proposed a future where computers could potentially leave a human perplexed to determine whether it was an organic or artificial mind. There are different forms of that test and it is by no means perfect, but his essential goal was to ask if, someday, computing would be so far advanced in that it became indistinguishable from our own thought processes as human beings. This conundrum, like Turing's teachings, lies at the heart of Bulkhead Interactive's The Turing Test
Pairing this heady philosophical material with brilliantly crafted puzzles makes The Turing Test
one of the best games of 2016. The game is a first-person puzzler in a science fiction setting. In it, you play as astronaut Ava Turing (what a coincidence!) some 200 years in the future. The International Space Agency awakens you prematurely from a cryosleep on a space shuttle and informs you that the rest of your team has gone dark on Jupiter's moon, Europa, the subject of your mission.
Greeted by the ship's on-board AI, T.O.M., you wouldn't be out of line to draw immediate comparisons to films like 2001: A Space Odyssey
. The simple almost blindingly white walls paint a familiar image of space excursions seen countless times across all visual media. The exact whereabouts of your crew are unknown, but T.O.M. has a general idea. They are on the other end of a series of dozens of rooms that are built to stump AI but should only challenge humans, not obstruct them permanently. Across 70 puzzles, Ava and T.O.M.'s relationship will change course several times over. Each room follows a set formula: introduce itself, carry the plot forward with more dialogue, and then step aside as you work to solve the puzzle and make it to the exit.
Here to there. It's not often going to be simple.
The puzzles take center stage, so it's a tremendous attribute that they are constructed so smartly. New elements are introduced regularly throughout the 8-12 hour story. The primary means of puzzle solving comes from your EMT (energy manipulation tool) that you use to transport energy sources from one location to another. A blue orb may open a door, power up a lever, or activate a magnet, but so too will the green, purple, or red orb. Determining the correct order to execute these steps while paying attention to other environmental obstacles like light bridges and elevators, is consistently challenging but never frustrating.
Each puzzle that slowed my progress felt like it was my
problem, not something that the game did wrong. There's no wasted space in any of the rooms -- everything is exacting, deliberate. You also can't "break" the game at any point, even if you dive into a puzzle with the wrong solution. There's always a way to pull yourself out of it and course-correct. In later levels, especially the last ten or so, the intricacy can get daunting. Multi-room puzzles with wires, switches, elevators, robots, cameras, and other resources, can make you want to quit at first glance and jump online for a solution, but don't. They're intimidating, but fair. It was always a reward to survey a complex puzzle, exhale, and commit to it.
Every ten puzzles end with a chunk of story-focused exploration.
If the puzzles aren't enough to draw you in, the narrative will be. The Turing Test
invokes subject matter that is becoming increasingly prevalent year after year. As humanity works to make AI smarter, faster, and more human-like, some of the most intelligent and most inquisitive minds in the world are stopping to ask, "then what?" What if AI does reach and exceed
the thinking ability of people? Where it goes from there is literally unfathomable at a certain point. It would be like trying to teach an ant calculus. 200 years in the future, The Turing Test
depicts a world where AI is incredibly intelligent but, more importantly, remarkably logical. It discusses how logic interplays with morality, if at all, and how the "human element" of our thought processes influences decisions that we make every minute of our lives.
At times, in the middle chapters, the dialogue does seem to slow its advances. As each room doles out a few lines of dialogue at a time, several consecutive rooms at one point feel like they get repetitious. Whether this was to really make a point or to refresh gamers who maybe got stuck in the last room for an extended period of time, I'm not sure. It ultimately doesn't detract too much from the overall story, however, especially when the game's voice acting and soundtrack are both exceptionally performed. The final moments of the game bring the whole narrative exercise and its many heady questions to a memorable conclusion. It's thought-provoking in a way that few games even try to be, and thankfully it nails its theme, something else from which story-driven games suffer. I've spent a great deal of time reflecting on it.
Every puzzle is carefully crafted. If it's in the room with you, you're going to need it.
Because games are batting 0-for-all in achieving perfection, The Turing Test
is still flawed but is forgivably so. Between every two rooms, a pause with brief loading times is forced upon the player. They weren't traditional loading screens, more like the on-the-fly type that we see in games sometimes when the software needs just an extra few seconds to load what's on the other side of a door. Brief as they are, they were still annoying and take you out of the game and, more importantly, the story.
Somehow, if the exciting puzzle gameplay and enthralling story don't have you invested, maybe the easy achievement list will capture you. The Turing Test
offers just 15 achievements, many of which are unmissable. The remaining unlocks are assigned to the optional puzzle rooms. Within every set of ten puzzles you'll find a "Restricted Area". Beyond each of those markers lies optional puzzles. These can be a bit harder than the current set in which you find yourself, but if you choose to revisit them after you have finished the story (thanks to convenient level select options), you'll have a much easier time with them. Besides, why wouldn't you make the time for seven extra puzzles in a game that already has you completing 70, especially when they are essentially en route to your final destination anyways? In short, it's an easy completion.
SummaryThe Turing Test
's gameplay mechanics will be familiar to anyone who is well-versed in the genre, but they still deserve accolades all of their own. The story that's told in piecemeal, room by room, is where the game really shines. It's written in a way that reveals a passion for the material from those that worked on the game, using real-life historical context mixed with classic sci-fi tropes that are retold in interesting ways. Where other games often sacrifice gameplay for story, or vice versa, Bulkhead's puzzler presents outstanding cases for both. The Turing Test
delivers not just a worthwhile game but an amazing story that will sit with you long after the credits.
- One of 2016's best stories
- Excellent voice acting
- Challenging but fair puzzles
- Great soundtrack
- Small technical hiccups between every two puzzle rooms
The reviewer spent nine hours figuring out puzzles but, more importantly, reflecting on the nature of super advanced artificial intelligence and how that may or may not coexist with humanity in the future. He unlocked all of the game's achievements. An Xbox One code was provided by the developer for the purpose of this review.