I’m gravitating towards more solitary, slightly cerebral videogames of late- the thought of multiplayer is just horrible, I play videogames to get away from people and the world, I don’t need to get stressed playing shoot em-ups getting mugged by eight year olds, thankyou. So I’ve spent far too much time than is possibly healthy probing the underwater depths of an aquatic alien world in Subnautica, which is a survival-adventure game, something I’m pretty new to (nearest previous title was No Man’s Sky I think, and the survival part of that game wasn’t really its core). Subnautica is beautiful and fascinating and really hooked me in. Parts of it are like James Cameron’s The Abyss, and I love that movie, so it’s irresistible being drawn into it, being a part of it and having to use my wits to figure out its mysteries and manage to survive. I don’t know how far I’ve progressed into it, but there’s definitely more depths to discover (literally, so), but I’ve put it on hiatus for now.
So I’ve been playing The Turing Test, recently placed on the Gamepass library. Now this is brilliant, one of those first-person puzzlers where in this case you explore a series of rooms on a research facility on Europa (yep, Jupiter’s moon), figuring out each puzzle that unlocks access to the next room, slowly delving deeper into the abandoned base. As you do so, hints and clues are gradually revealed of the stations original crew, an unfolding narrative that so far (I’m about two chapters in) I’ve really enjoyed. Its another mystery, akin to that of What Remains of Edith Finch, your game progress unfolding a meta-narrative. As you play you are observed by an AI, brilliantly voiced by James Faulkner (unmistakable and a really great performance) who comments on your actions and the state of the base- clearly the rooms are a test, a Turing Test, infact, to distinguish between human and machine, and it’s fairly obvious that you are being manipulated by the AI and that it (Tom) knows more about the fate of the original crew than it is telling.
The tests so far aren’t particularly grueling and are quite refreshingly intuitive, slowly becoming more complex and adding complications as they go. I’m really enjoying the sense of place and mood, though. Its fairly routine in design but it feels real, a place to feel and adjust to. Clearly there’s a mystery to solve and no doubt there are inevitable twists, but I am enjoying the gradually unfolding narrative. I’m one of those people who like to just look around the virtual space, soak it up, read any old crew logs that are abandoned and reveal tantalising back-story and clues to what Tom may be up to. I think there are about 70 rooms in all and I’m not half-way yet- I certainly hope the puzzles don’t become too challenging. Its a tricky thing, the developers raising the stakes/complexity but still encouraging the player to work harder and avoiding the player hitting a difficulty wall he/she can’t get beyond. Here’s hoping I manage to get to the end and figure out what’s really been going on. Engrossing stuff though, and like so many examples of this kind of thoughtful game, a really good, atmospheric soundtrack (in this case courtesy of Sam Houghton).
It reminds me of The Talos Principle, which I played on PS4 a few years ago. That was a brilliant, brilliant game- another first-person puzzler with a really fascinating backstory. But I never finished it. I was deeply into it back when our dog Ben was really ill, and was playing it off and on during those last few weeks before he died. Unfortunately the game, its graphics, sound effects and music are just so tightly wrapped up in my feelings and memories of that traumatic period, well, I really can’t ever go near it again. I remember Ben on my lap as I played it, and I’d be talking to him as I tried to figure out the games quite ingenious (and increasingly tricky) puzzles. Of course I knew he was ill but didn’t really know how ill- well, I guess I did but we tend to fool ourselves with hope, don’t we?
Funny how music, film, or in this case videogames (which in a audiovisual sense can be an intense combination of both) can be such an arresting link to particular moments, good and bad- they can represent great joy but also such terrible pain. I suppose it’s a pity that I’ll never feel able to go back and finish that Talos Principle. Its too much like a Time Machine that only ever goes back to that one time.
24th June, almost three years ago. The day we lost Ben was the day the Brexit result was announced. Its like we stepped out from one sane world and into a crazier one, in which our dog was gone, our country split in two and politics slid even further into farce. I suppose it’s a little like moving from one level of a videogame to the next, only I can’t find the exit to this one.