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From the very start, there is a feeling of deja-vu to the beginning levels of Bulkhead Interactive’s The Turning Test. I suppose it’s nearly impossible to mention a modern puzzle game and not say the word Portal, but this game makes no qualms about what inspired it and how closely it intends to follow that successful formula.
You wake up in a small room in control of a woman named Ava Turing, guided by a British disembodied AI voice who leads you out of the room where you learn every room after is an increasingly more difficult series of puzzles you must solve in order to move on. Each door is either locked or can be locked by a power cube or orb of energy (manipulated by a handgun-like device) though there are limited cubes and orbs per room and learning how to use them in the proper sequence or in combination with environmental elements such as magnetic crane, movable walkways and elevators is where the rooms take on the game’s namesake. Designed so that only a human can solve them, they are meant to determine if the participant is in fact a person or a machine.
Unlike Valve’s Portal series, there is no humor in The Turning Test, a much more realistic and somber tale that is less about escaping a test facility and more about discovery, especially of what became of the other members of the Europa Space Station. The seemingly abandoned station handles this aspect of the game very well, if you enjoy this type of gameplay. You come across bits of information as you progress with each giving the other characters some depth and personality. As a player who likes to comb through every nook and cranny of any game, this was one of the more intriguing parts of the game, though not necessary.
The rooms you do explore are fairly standard for the genre, though admittedly this is a good looking game. Most rooms are sterile white with bits of colors meant to be clues, and while it adequately represents what a moon base on Europa might look like, it lacks any personality and its labyrinthine layout makes everything look nearly the same, which might be the point. Still, with so much time invested (up 7 hours) within these walls, it would have been nice to feel somewhat more connected to the setting, though certainly the latter acts make up for a lot this lost potential.
That leads to the puzzles, of which there is a good variety and while nothing so challenging it set me back for too long, there is a lot of satisfaction to many. That’s a big plus. I really enjoy looking at something that superficially seems impossible and working out what it takes to make that door open, though many of the early puzzles were easy enough to “see” the solution rather than experiment, which left the first act sometimes a bit of slog. But believe me, there is a superior twist that comes later that turns the tables on much of what came before and adds tremendous weight to the game’s core gameplay and story. It makes a playthrough entirely worth it.
If you’re a fan of puzzlers and sci-fi and like a little seriousness with your science-based games, there’s no reason not to play this little gem. I played the Xbox One version and while I did encounter very long load times and two instances where the game crashed, it’s a smooth and well-crafted experience that might not be wholly original, is still an engaging game with a fantastic twist.
Developer: Bulkhead Interactive
Platform(s): Microsoft Windows, Xbox One
Release: 30 August 2016