- Developer: Bulkhead Interactive
- Publisher: Square Enix
- Release date: 07/02/2020
- Price: £15.99 / $19.99
- Review code provided by Bulkhead Interactive
The Turing Test is a first-person puzzle game, using power switches as its primary tool. This takes the form of manual power blocks that must be carried, and various energy balls that can be captured and distributed from range via the player’s gun like EMT. As is the standard with games in this genre, what sounds like a simple premise is used in increasingly complex and interesting ways as the game progresses.
In this game, the protagonist Ava Turing (which is a bit on the nose) is awoken from cryogenic sleep by TOM, the AI that controls the Europa scientific base Fortuna, and tasked with searching for the missing ground crew. To do this she must progress through rooms that have been set up by the ground crew to be “Turing Tests.” There are seven chapters, with ten puzzles each. While having such a linear path makes for a fairly predictable experience in some ways, the rest of the game makes up for it.
Visually the game is absolutely stunning and runs far better than I expected on the Switch. During normal gameplay, I did not experience frame drops in either docked or handheld mode, which I cannot say of games that look half as good. I did experience momentary freezes in the loading corridors as the next room was loaded, but while jarring did not negatively affect the actual gameplay in any way. I also experienced a bug where sound fell out of sync with visuals but restarting the game fixed this.
It is obvious that a lot of care went into the design of this game visually. There are many areas that appear to use unique assets and had to have taken a significant amount of work, yet are then only used once. The game designers could have easily excluded most of these with minimal effect on the story, but their inclusion was definitely to the game’s benefit. It is then too bad that the same care did not make it into the story.
TOM IS ALWAYS WATCHING
If I had any one major complaint about The Turing Test, it would be its story and that story’s delivery. Most of the game has Ava talking back and forth with TOM, and this is actually a good way to deliver story in a natural way. Unfortunately, that is not what happens. Despite Ava being a highly trained engineer who trained to work with the ground crew specifically for their current mission, TOM spends much of the early game explaining the mission and everything about the base to Ava.
While this is all information that is important for the player’s understanding of the game, having it all blatantly explained to someone that should know better is the worst kind of exposition. The frustrating part is that other aspects of the game, such as the truth about what happened to the ground team, are expertly spread throughout the game via recorded conversations, messages left on tablets, and items left lying around.
Poorly handled exposition aside, the story does have a few interesting hooks. Morality, the value of human life, free will, and questions about AI are all discussed. The game also has an interesting twist later that, while hinted at, is still an interesting surprise. It is also used to introduce a new set of mechanics for the last couple of chapters.
The pay off for this story is disappointing though. While there is a short epilogue with two possible endings, both endings only show the immediate consequence of the outcome. Then the credits roll, and you are returned to the main menu. There are also multiple story threads the player runs across that have no explanation or resolution. I was left dissatisfied after I finished, despite enjoying the puzzles.
As I mentioned previously, the key to all the game’s puzzles is power. A locked door may need power to open, or power turned off instead. Lifts, conveyors, magnets, and many other tools come into play throughout the game’s seventy puzzles. Figuring out the order to power devices, and what kind of power (constant, timed, and pulsing for example) to give them, turned out to be capable of some fun and challenging puzzles.
The only times the gameplay fell apart was when the game had short time limits, or physics came into play. Usually, the time limits in the game are generous enough to not be an issue, but a couple of times I had to redo a section because I was not fast enough. One specifically was because I could not aim and shoot a power box quickly enough. Ideally, puzzle games, even first-person ones, should not rely on player skill to solve a puzzle.
I also encountered issues with the game’s power boxes. These are used for things other than power in The Turing Test as well, such as pressing switches. They also proved very temperamental. In one section I needed a box to ride on a conveyor, but the momentum shift of turning the conveyer on threw the box off requiring me to go back a couple of steps to start over. Thankfully, puzzles that could fail like this were rare and usually only took a few minutes to get past.
Despite my misgivings on the story, and the occasional issue I had with the gameplay, The Turing Test is quite a bit of fun. The real Turing Test is about lateral thinking, and I certainly could tell I was being forced to do that in the later puzzles. For fans of this genre, the most important parts of the game are very well done making this an easy recommendation.
- A large variety of unique puzzles
- Stunning graphics
- Some interesting plot points
- Poorly handled exposition
- No pay off to the story
- Occassional issues with physics
While the story falls flat at the end, this game is more than worth a try just for the puzzles.