The Turing Test (Xbox One Review)
Developed in 1950, The Turing Test was designed to challenge a machine’s ability to mimic a human mind. Basically, Alan Turing said that there would be three participants in his test; a computer, a human judge, and a second human who would hold a conversation with the computer. If, by the end of the conversation, the human judge could not decide who in the conversation was the machine and who was the human, the computer is said to have passed the Turing test. That’s not really what the game is about, though.
Developed by British studio Bulkhead Interactive, the team behind ‘Pneuma: Breath of Life’, The Turing Test is a first person puzzle game set over 200 years in the future, on one of Jupiter’s moons. It’s a game that looks to challenge your ideas of consciousness and morality, explore these mind-boggling phenomena through conversations taking place between Ava Turing, the International Space Agency scientist that you play as, and Tom, the AI overseeing the installation, experiments, and crew on Europa.
The immediate impression I got from The Turing Test was ‘Portal, but with less charm’ and I’m glad I stuck with the game beyond that initial idea, because it’s not accurate at all. While any first person puzzler with a sci-fi aesthetic will always be compared to Portal, usually unfavourably, The Turing Test offers something very different. The works of Alan Turing are referenced frequently between the two characters as Ava explores the ISA’s base on Europa, looking for the ground team of scientists and doctors after she is awoken from her cryostasis by her AI companion.
And it’s the dialogue between Tom and Ava that put this game on a different level from Portal. Tom explains that the puzzles that Ava must traverse would be impossible for an AI to solve. You find out why they were designed this way as you make your way through the 70 chambers the game has to offer, as it’s the ground team themselves that put them together…
So how does the puzzle aspect hold up? Part of the reason The Turing Test instantly draws comparisons to Portal is that your main puzzle solving tool is a gun-like device called an Energy Manipulation Tool, or EMT for short. The EMT can drain energy and transfer energy between devices, allowing you to manipulate doors, stairs, bridges and more at a distance. Like any puzzler, the trials you face start off really easy, with you and Ava learning how to use different types of energy to solve them in bite-size chunks. In the beginning, there’s blue energy and battery packs, which provide a constant source of power. In later trials, however, green, purple and red energy are introduced, each with a different use. Green and purple energy, for example, provide repeating bursts of energy, allowing doors to open and close, while red energy will only power a device for a short while before resetting.
You get enough time to process the various ways to use each energy type, as well as the buttons, conveyors and other tools, that I rarely felt too perplexed by a puzzle. I know I got stuck on chambers 55 and 70, but those are the only ones that took me more than a few minutes to figure out. Each of The Turing Test’s seven chapters also have a seriously difficult bonus puzzle. At the time of writing, I’ve finished the game itself, but never managed to solve a bonus puzzle. Rest assured, I’m going back for them!
Graphically, The Turing Test is nothing too special. It shares the same art-style and colour scheme as games like Portal and Qube, with each test chamber being constructed of mostly white tiles, with cameras dotted around and your attention instantly drawn to objects in the room due to their red or black colour. The only other time colour really stands out is during The Turing Test’s loading screens. These screens break immersion after every puzzle and applies a blue filter to the screen while a little ‘loading’ icon swirls in the centre of your view. Other, similar games usually hide their loading screens in things like elevators.
But that’s essentially my only complaint. While the story feels generic at first, you come to really understand both Ava and Tom, and you can get into the mindset of the rest of the ground crew when you reach their chambers, by reading emails or listening to audio recordings. Your experience with The Turing Test doesn’t suffer if you skip any of this totally optional information, but it’s definitely improved by processing it all. There was also one incident when I tried to get out of bounds, succeeded, and ended up falling endlessly through a floor that didn’t exist. Serves me right, I guess. All I had to do was reload the area and not jump over the barrier.
The Turing Test forces you to consider what makes humanity, by questioning morality and the idea of ‘the few vs the many’ through conversations with Tom. The parts of Tom and Ava are written and voiced fantastically, and that’s a saving grace in a puzzle game where the puzzles are, at times, too easy. The story twists and turns as you head deeper and deeper into Europa, and the strategically spaced-out post it notes, emails, and voice recordings from the ground crew feed you a tale that I don’t want to say too much about, but it’s a damn fine one. I gasped and dropped my controller after the final scene. And I don’t remember the last time I did that.
Editors Note: This review was covered by the wonderful Martin Hutchinson. When he’s not claiming life insurance policies between heart attacks he is a regular on the GamingEgos podcast and helps out over at GlitchFreeGaming.