By: Brian Gunn
The Turing Test is the first game from Bulkhead Interactive, as well as the first directly published by the Square Enix Collective, the longtime publisher’s catalog of curated indie hopefuls. While a few other Collective games have released, this is the first one Square has gotten directly involved in. Does it stand out to the player in the same way it stood out to the publisher, or does it fail to make an impression?
The Turing Test is a first-person puzzle game, and like most of its competitors, controls fairly simply. There’s pointing and shooting, some very light running and jumping, and that’s about it. The game is hardly a twitch shooter, though I did find myself switching to mouse aim on a couple puzzles when they required more focused reflexes, but those moments were few and far between.
For the most part, the Unreal Engine shines in The Turing Test. It’s an extremely linear game full of sterile lab settings and experiments, so it shouldn’t be a surprise the developers managed to polish what was on display. I did find myself annoyed by some of the lighting choices, though. There was too much lens flare and some areas when you got close to a different light source, like a computer, would darken the screen far too much.
There’s not much music here, except for in a few heightened story moments, and it does a serviceable job. Sound effects work well, with the unlocking of your exit door as you fire energy balls into its locks always being satisfying. The standout, however, is the voice acting of the two lead characters, Ava and Tom. The latter is especially strong as the logical and deceptive AI that has become a staple of science fiction.
The story takes place far enough into the future for humanity to have begun exploring Europa, one of Jupiter’s moons. The game starts with Tom waking Ava from cryogenic sleep in orbit above the moon because something has gone wrong on the surface. It seems all contact has been lost with the crew, and they’ve modified the lunar base to prevent intrusion.
Tom suggest he needs Ava’s help navigating the base because it has been modified into a series of Turing Tests (tests designed to determine if the participant is human or AI), and he can’t solve them. The basic concept of why everything has been turned into a series of puzzle rooms is fairly flimsy, but the actual plot gets good enough to ignore those flaws.
The Turing Test is likely to draw a lot of comparisons to the Portal series. And while there isn’t a portal gun, you do wield a gun that allows you to steal and dispense power, you’re stuck in a bunch of logic tests and you have a combative AI to deal with. However, it ended up feeling more like The Talos Principle in its puzzle design, though it never really reaches the heights of the genre’s giants.
Puzzles start off simply, like collecting generators to power objects or leaving them on pressure pads to open a door you need to get through. Things gradually ramp up as you learn to control giant magnets and alternate power sources that only activate objects briefly or intermittently get introduced.
It’s almost too gradual, really, and the game ends up being fairly easy overall even for those that don’t necessarily gravitate toward puzzle games. Only a few optional puzzles and the last chapter really stood out as brain teasers. I ended up getting stuck more often because I didn’t notice something tucked away in a high up place or corner rather than because of the puzzle itself.
About halfway through the game it does pick up, however, from both a mechanical and story perspective. While The Turing Test initially seems set on just pondering what makes a person human, it eventually becomes more of thriller about human immortality and responsibility, and it’s there the story does its most interesting work.
Around this same time the puzzles get a slight twist I don’t want to spoil that makes you look at them and your character a bit differently. All of which culminates in what I thought was a rather fantastic ending.
The Turing Test may not win too many people over purely for the puzzle content, but the story and characters make this well worth the time investment.