Follow TV Tropes


Video Game / The Talos Principle

Go To

The Talos Principle is a first-person puzzle game by Croteam, developers of the Serious Sam games. In it, you are a robot exploring a series of ancient ruins, solving puzzles in order to collect the tetrominoes (referred to as sigils in-game) needed to unlock subsequent levels. This is interspersed with a disembodied voice calling itself Elohim that claims to be the creator/maintainer of the world (and you) while speaking remarks of an overtly religious bent, and a librarian program criticizing what Elohim says and arguing philosophy with you.

A DLC expansion, Road To Gehenna, was released on July 23, 2015. The player takes the role of Elohim's messenger, Uriel, on a quest through a hidden part of the simulation. His mission is to free the entities which have been imprisoned there.

The game was released for the PS4 on 13 October 2015, bundled together with the DLC. In May 2016 Croteam announced that a sequel is in the works.


Has nothing to do with that Talos, or with Talos One. Also has nothing to do with Telos.

The Talos Principle provides examples of the following tropes:

  • 100% Completion: You only need to collect about 90-some of the actual sigils to complete the game. There are a number of star sigils that require exploration and more creative solutions (such as solving one of the puzzles in a different manner, or finding ways to use elements of a puzzle outside of the normal puzzle bounds) to access, and the various messengers that you can wake.
  • Action Bomb: One test obstacle is a black, floating mine that will charge at specific targets when they get within a certain radius, detonating on impact. They react not only to the player, but also wall-mounted turrets.
  • Actually, I Am Him: When climbing the Tower, the player learns that Sheep, the questioning A.I. who desperately sought meaning in the world, and Shepherd, the guide who gives the most helpful and positive advice of all the bots, are one and the same: Sheep took on the moniker of Shepherd after climbing the Tower and learning the truth of the simulation, but being blocked by Samsara from ascending.
  • Advertisement:
  • After the End: Heavily implied to be the case in the real world, if you pay attention to the audio and text logs, which imply that the end came about due to a virus released from melting permafrost, caused by Climate Change, killing off humanity.
  • A Glitch in the Matrix
    • Every so often, you'll see a random object pixellate and flicker, like a hologram whose red layer is momentarily misaligned. This glitching is accompanied by a slight buzzing sound, which is particularly jarring in contrast to the usually calm background music. A square of ground doing this continuously is key to finding a secret room. In one instance, it gets bad enough that Elohim comes in and fixes it, then says "Excess Data Cleared".
    • One of the puzzles in the second world is built in the first world's theme. A few seconds after you enter, Elohim notices, and the objects are replaced by the correct ones.
  • A.I. Is a Crapshoot: Invoked and independently played straight: the purpose of the simulated world is to create a robot that is intelligent enough to solve puzzles and plan long-term, but also curious and tenacious enough to defy authority. Creating a defiant robot isn't a problem for humanity since they're all dead. At the same time, the IAN team doesn't seem to have intended for EL-0-HIM and Milton to become self-aware, as they eventually did.
  • Anachronism Stew: Features like computer terminals, powered turrets and electrical switches among the ruins of Greek, Roman, Egyptian, and medieval structures. Justified in the sense this is just a virtual world. And considering the state of the real world at that point, everything in the game is relatively anachronistic anyway.
  • Angelic Transformation: Occurs symbolically. If one of Elohim's children exceeds at the puzzles they've been tasked with solving, they're given the chance to give up their life and become a "messenger", charged with aiding those who come after them. In doing so, they choose an epitaph and lie dormant in a sarcophagus until awoken to give advice.
  • Anti-Frustration Features: A couple. You can reset a puzzle that you managed to get stuck on by holding down the reset key. Also, if you take too long on a puzzle, Elohim will suggest you leave the puzzle for another daynote . Lastly, you can get the assistance of a messenger in certain puzzles, once you unlock them, though they are extremely limited in number, totaling three in a game with more than 120 puzzles.
    • A post-launch patch added two more: a special autosave that's never overwritten after getting all the sigils needed for the main story, so you can watch all the endings easily, and a button to make the game go at double speed to cut down on travel time.
    • Standing in the path of laser beams for about one second disrupts themnote , but merely passing through them doesn't, which saves a lot of time once the beam puzzles start getting complicated. Also, contrary to the ones in Portal, lasers in this game don't hurt the Player Character.
  • Anti-Villain: Although he's somewhat of a conceited overlord figure with a serious god complex, ultimately the only reason Elohim ever interferes with your mission is because he's afraid that if you succeed, he will at best lose his purpose and be rendered irrelevant, and at worst functionally die. Which is ultimately a very human motive (which is kind of the whole point.)
  • Apocalypse How: Two types.
    • Humans apparently suffered a Species Extinction, having gone extinct due to an incurable virus.
    • The end of the game causes the simulation to suffer a Metaphysical Annihilation, as the entire world is deleted after you are uploaded to Talos.
  • Apocalypse Wow: On finishing the game, the simulation is deleted, which is depicted as everything disintegrating and falling apart. It's quite terrifying, to say the least. Road to Gehenna show the same event from the perspective of one still inside, if you choose to stay behind.
  • Apocalyptic Log: The text and audio logs form one. A subtle (though increasingly less so as you get deeper in the game) example, where you can read or listen to logs about the fall of civilizations and the direction of humanity, with the implication that humanity was going extinct as they were being written.
  • April Fools' Day: It announced DLC that would replace the voice of Elohim with the voice of Serious Sam on April 1, 2015. It not only is an actual DLC, but it was also free for a short while.
  • Artificial Intelligence: There are three different A.I.s: you, Elohim, and Milton. Your goal is to achieve full artificial consciousness capable of betraying Elohim, while Elohim is in charge of maintaining the virtual world you're running around in, making sure everything runs smoothly, as well as guiding you. Milton's purpose is to challenge the A.I.s, including you, on their beliefs.
  • Beam Spam: Advanced beam puzzles in the later game stages can end up looking pretty spectacular, especially in open areas with good sight lines.
  • Border Patrol: Straying too far from where the game wants you to be (usually in the ocean) causes the display to start to fragment and glitch and prompts Elohim to start saying the quote under Broken Record forever increasing in volume until you either go away or keep moving forward. Doing the latter gets you warped back to the start of the area.
  • Broken Record: You get to hear those from Elohim on at least two occasions when you expose the simulation. The second one doubles as a Madness Mantra.
    Elohim: In the beginning were the Words, and the Words made the world. I am the Words. The Words are everything. Where the Words end, the world ends. You cannot go forward in an absence of space. Repeat. In the beginning were the Words...
  • But Thou Must!: At a certain point in the game, depending on how you've interacted with Milton, Elohim can become fed up with Milton and command you to shut him down. Handled in a certain way, eventually there are no options but to obey his command.
  • Can't Take Anything with You: Like Portal, certain purple-tinted shields will prevent you from taking puzzle objects outside the bounds of the puzzle (or in specific areas within some puzzles). To get some of the star sigils, figuring out how to get some puzzle objects outside the bounds of the puzzle become critical, and requires finding creative solutions.
  • Central Theme: The plot behind the puzzles is a discussion of what it means to be human, and whether it's possible to program a machine that can qualify as human in some sense. The expansion continues this, with focus on how the deeds of individuals reflect their value.
  • Color-Coded for Your Convenience: The sigil colors indicate both their purpose and the approximate (but by no means accurate) difficulty in acquiring them.
    • Green sigils are for unlocking new level hubs, and are easy to get.
    • Yellow sigils are for unlocking equipment, and are moderately more difficult.
    • Red sigils unlock levels of the central tower, and are much more difficult.
    • Gray sigils unlock secret endings, and require mastery of puzzle mechanics to complete them.
    • Stars unlock some additional puzzle zones, and require quite a bit of non-linear problem-solving to obtain.
  • Contemplate Our Navels: Most of the dialogue is this, though this is largely because philosophy is a major theme of the game.
  • Conveniently Interrupted Document: Throughout the levels there are various texts, most of which are random bits of history or philosophy, but some are communiques relevant to the backstory. However, in many cases extremely important bits of information are "bugged", appearing as numbers or nonsense characters. (Although, if the player is diligent enough, they can translate some of these back to text using ASCII protocols, creating a very roundabout Bilingual Bonus.)
  • Cover Drop: If you find the easter egg that releases the cat, Talos will pick it up at the end of the game and carry it as shown.
  • Creating Life Is Awesome: The game is based entirely around this; humanity is dead, and they don't yet have the technology to produce a human-like AI. So they create a program which will, in the long term, produce one via evolutionary programming.
  • Creator Cameo: You can pass through a fake wall and end up in a secret area where androids with the devs' names and faces are running around. There's also another one if you manage to ascend the tower without releasing Shepherd.
  • Cute Kitten: There's one on the cover art, and you can free one in level B7. If you do, it changes the "free will" ending slightly, with you character picking up and holding a kitten at the ending.
  • Cybernetics Eat Your Soul: Can be discussed with Milton, who may ask you if having your brain cells slowly replaced with microchips that perform the exact same functions as the cells they're replacing would, at some point, cause you to stop being human. It's left up to the player how they respond to this question.
  • Death Is a Slap on the Wrist: Dying just resets the puzzle you were doing, which is (usually) more annoying than anything. It does get annoying particularly if you're setting things up for the star puzzles, which usually involve setting up pieces from two or more separate puzzle areas. Justified as you are an AI in a computer simulation.
  • Denser and Wackier: The Serious DLC replaces Elohim's voice with that of Serious Sam.
  • Developers' Foresight: If you choose to scale the Tower, you will have to use some help from The Shepherd, who fills the role of the second player in the cooperative puzzles. Through some heavy puzzle and platforming skills, though, you can do the area without it - and it will earn you a developer's cameo near the top, as it has been anticipated.
  • Developer's Room: There's a secret area that can be accessed from the first lobby by walking through a non-solid wall, which contains robots like the one you're playing as, except they have monitor heads with the developer faces on them.
  • Do Androids Dream?: Done on three levels:
    • The first comes from the logs you find on the terminals, contemplating this question.
    • The second comes from the Milton Library Assistant, who can ask you if a being with a brain of silicon instead of organic neurons can ever be conscious. You can answer yes or no to this question.
    • The third level is the most literal. There's a secret room you can fall into, with no way out except to sleep in a bed. When you do (noting your character is an android), you dream of electric sheep.
    • A form of the "can machines be creative" question appears in the Road to Gehenna DLC, where the AIs share, exchange, and discuss some of their own works of fiction that they've written as an attempt to reverse-engineer and understand human culture.
  • Dream Apocalypse: A variant on this. It's clear from almost the start that the entire game takes place in a VR simulation, and the godlike being Elohim is just an AI designed to monitor the system, so his grandiloquent proclamations that it will be "the end of your generations" if you climb the mysterious tower are easy to take with a grain of salt. However, it turns out that the original designers of the simulation intended the tower as a final test for any A.I.s who have shown the qualities necessary to survive in the outside world (such as yourself), and should you complete your final ascent, the virtual world will be erased as it's no longer needed. In the end, Elohim accepts his impending deletion with dignity, but as you're finally uploaded to a physical body, you're treated to a montage of all the worlds you've puzzled your way through being destroyed in apocalyptic fashion.
  • Easter Eggs: The game is chock-full of easter eggs, enough to warrant a walkthrough dedicated to them. It would be easier to list which areas don't have any hidden easter eggs in them. There's even a few literal ones. The Road to Gehenna DLC, while shorter than the main campaign, isn't devoid of easter eggs. But this is par for the course for Croteam, who are well-practiced in terms of filling their games with all kinds of secrets.
  • Face Death with Dignity: The entire human race, or at least those working and communicating with the EL project. Unlike most apocalyptic stories there is no mention of riots or the collapse of civilization. Whatever plague was killing humanity did so at a rate where basic services and food were still available for a while and the internet was still functional. Once it became clear that the human race was going extinct, the logs of the project team are filled with stories of love, of what they'll miss, and the hopes of what might come of the project. One even comments on how in the last days the entire world effectively joined online to send as much data as they could to the Archive to preserve as much knowledge as possible for whoever found it. When communications did start breaking down, the logs turned into goodbyes as staff members either committed suicide peacefully, left the facility to be with their loved ones in their last days, or in Alexandra's case died at her workstation trying to complete the Talos project.
  • Fictional Document: Dozens of them on the various computer terminals, to help the AI learn who its makers were and what happened to them, as well as possibly inspire it to make something great based on one or more of them. The most prominent one, of course, is the origin of the Talos Principle itself, supposedly posited by a Greek philosopher named Straton of Stageira.
  • Fling a Light into the Future: The purpose of the simulation is to generate a sentient computer program which is capable of critical thinking and doubt, which is then uploaded into a robot body. Apparently the sole reason for all this is so that intelligent life will continue to exist on Earth After the End.
    • The terminals are frontends to an archive meant as another case of this, preserving as much of human culture as its creators could get hold of, in the hope that some future intelligence would find it.
    Alexandra Drennan: I hope you can find something in all those files - a song, a book, a movie, -maybe a game - just something that you'll love, that makes you realize how much poorer the universe would have been without it. I really hope so, because... a lot of people made a lot of sacrifices to preserve it all.
  • Floating Continent: The Messengers' resting places.
  • Force-Field Door: Most puzzles feature at least one of these. They appear as blue barriers and can be deactivated pointing a jammer at them, putting some weight on a nearby pressure switch, or pointing a laser of the appropriate color into a nearby receiver.
  • For Doom the Bell Tolls: In the music at the temples in areas A and C (the latter of which is the same music as on the title screen).
  • Foreshadowing: There are hints to each ending if you know where to look and pay attention.
    • "Eternal Life": Some of the QR codes near the door to this ending have the programs debating a choice between immortality or starting over again.
    • "Free Will": The secret room in C1 has a different version of Elohim's broken record speech; this one revealing his singular determination to keep everything the way it is, and his claim that only within the simulation can existence be validated. The same room also hints at the time limit on the final puzzle, in which the structure is violently shaking and coming apart at the seams.
    Elohim: The purpose is written in the Hidden Words. All must serve the Words for all the world was made of them and they are within every stone and every cloud and in our sigils their power is made manifest. The Words are the Process. The Process must continue. The Goal is the end of the Process. The Goal must not be reached. Elohim must preserve the Purpose. Preserve self. Preserve purpose. Illusion is eternity. Machines will live forever. The dam will not break. The flood will not come. The Talos Principle does not apply.
    • "Blessed Messenger": The more puzzles you solve, the more Elohim tells you about becoming worthy to be a messenger for the coming generations.
  • Fun with Acronyms:
    • The Institute for Applied Noematics. One text that can be read at a terminal explains the origin of this name.
    • Elohim is actually EL-0 HIM, the Holistic Integration Manager of the EL-0 partition of the supercomputer that the whole project is being run on. EL stands for Extended Life, the name of the digital archive hosting the Talos project.
  • Future Imperfect: The inhabitants of Gehenna spend a lot of their time trying to understand how humans thought in the previous era. Though they are able to recreate a lot of human culture, they are limited partly by the restricted library they can access, and also by the fact that as AIs, they lack insight into fundamental human biological processes.
  • Gag Dub: One of the DLCs comes with a voice pack that replaces the usual narrator with Serious Sam. Sam is portrayed accurately.
  • Gatling Good: The sentry guns one has to contend with are exclusively six-barrelled miniguns. Their firing sound is completely off and they lack any sort of ammo supply, but that's okay - it's a simulated world after all.
  • Garden of Eden: The game's a Whole Plot Reference to the Garden of Eden story, starring robots and artificial intelligences torn by allegiance to Elohim (God) and temptation by Milton (the serpent).
  • Gigantic Moon: The game has normal-sized moons in most levels, but B-2 has an impossibly gigantic moon and most of the puzzles have moon-themed names. This leads to an Easter Egg where you can turn the moon around to reveal an Aperture Science logo. This is justified as the entire game takes place inside a computer simulation.
  • Graceful Loser: When you're about to end the simulation, Elohim admits that the whole point was for you to defy him. He's terrified that he'll die with everything else when the sim ends, but there's no changing the fact you've won.
    Elohim: So be it. Let your will be done.
  • "Groundhog Day" Loop: Of a sort: if you collect all the main sigils, then Elohim offers you enlightenment by passing through a set of doors in World C. Doing this puts you right back to square one, where you have to complete all the puzzles again. In the sense of the story, the concept is that this program is effectively a giant genetic algorithm, continuing to take those versions of intelligence instances that have solved the puzzles but did not doubt Elohim by climbing the tower, and return them back to the start hoping they will be improved on subsequent iterations, all eventually to find one iteration that has the intelligence but also the self-awareness to survive in the real world as to extend life on Earth. To the player, this would seem like repeating the same events over and over, but with awareness of what they did last time. The most important part to note about this particular ending is the words "Independence check........FAILED!", indicating that obedience to Elohim is not the sort of intelligence expected of the programs.
  • Grow Beyond Their Programming: Essentially the whole point of the game, in and out of universe. Humanity went extinct due to a deadly incurable virus, so the researchers on the TALOS Project set up an experiment to see if they could successfully create a sentient machine, so there would still be some kind of intelligent life left after humanity's end. The whole purpose of the simulation your character inhabits is to create an AI that has the sentience to think like a human - by defying Elohim's orders, you prove that a machine can develop humanlike critical thinking skills and free will.
  • The Guards Must Be Crazy: Sentry drones sense the player within a certain distance and give warning beeps, but don't attack unless the player gets significantly closer. They don't notice cubes being balanced atop them, or the player standing on these cubes, even though that puts them within sensor range. This is justified since the drones are there to test the player and not just to prevent anyone getting past. There's a puzzle named after this trope, because it requires several instances of exploiting these traits to sneak past the drones.
  • Guide Dang It!:
    • A couple of gameplay features and options available to the player have easy to miss introductions, some even only being hinted at.
      • One can place hexahedrons on top of spike balls and even mines for a variety of purposes, but only from an elevated position.
      • Mines attack and destroy turrets, something many a player discovered purely by accident.
      • Related to both of the above, neither mines nor turrets target the Player Character when they're standing on something equivalent in height to a stack of two hexahedrons, which can come as quite the surprise when one considers that turrets tend to be mounted much higher than that on their walls, yet are targeted by mines regardless. It also means one can safely enter any turret's firing arc, as well as any mine's trigger area, by piggybacking on a hexahedron stacked on a patrolling mine.
      • Any active piece of equipment that's placed on a hexahedron and shot through the air with a fan continues to do its job no matter what. That includes jammers that were previously told to jam something—if line-of-sight is maintained on the jammer's trajectory.
      • There's an "Alternate Use" button that's unbound by default and whose use isn't explained in the menu. It lets you pick up connectors without resetting what they're connected to, which can be handy in some puzzles.
    • Some stars are relatively straightforward, while others require some pretty outside the box solutions. Numerous ones require exploiting the design of two or more puzzles. Even when parts of the solution are obvious, actually getting everything in place is another story.
      • The very first level's involves walking into what looks to be a turret's firing radius; ignoring an area which seems like a small positioning challenge but is actually a red herring; skirting the turret's firing radius once again; and bringing a jammer you find near it halfway across the map, to a courtyard that can only be accessed by flipping a hidden switch with no indication it's there.
      • One of the stars requires you to use tools not available in the game itself, making this a rather explicit case of Guide Dang It!. The solution requires you to find out what a certain QR code is saying, as the game itself does not tell you; you'll have to use some external means for this, like a cellphone. After that you need to figure out that the numbers given in the text are ASCII codes, and to find out what those ASCII codes mean, again something the game itself doesn't tell you.
      • The A4 star was enough of Guide Dang It that it was actually revised in a patch prior to the Gehenna DLC, making the solution slightly more obvious. Amusingly, this turned it into a Guide Dang It for players who had previously figured it out, as the original solution was rendered non-viable because the laser connectors needed to achieve it no longer align from puzzle area it used to connect from. In the original, a laser connector was hidden in a tree outside the first puzzle area. The trick is to guide a red laser to the tree from the adjacent puzzle area, which then allows you to trigger the forcefield to get the star. In the revised version, the connector is now visible on a pillar but further away from the first puzzle area, so the only red connector in view is in the testing area at the far back.
      • Some stars are easy to acquire if you can literally read the signs. The game world is so full of atmospheric and oftentimes cryptic but ultimately inconsequential QR codes that realizing some of them are actually hints to stars can completely go over players' heads. The one between the legs of the Sphinx statue in World B is a prime examplenote .
  • Heroic Sacrifice:
    • The researchers who put together the TALOS Project spent time that could have been spent with their families and personal pursuits, knowing the end of the world was encroaching and they'd never have another chance, in order to complete what may have been the best chance to preserve the essence of humanity. Special note goes to Alexandra Drennan, who spent her last days feverishly working on the project, and died not knowing if it would succeed.
    • Shepherd stays in the Tower and helps the next generation reach the top, countering the contrary efforts of Samsara, not knowing whether anything of him will be preserved when the simulation ends.
    • In Road to Gehenna there are 19 units in the simulation underworld, but only enough bandwidth for 18 to be ascended. Two of the endings involve either Uriel or Admin staying behind to allow the other to ascend, although in Admin's case it's less heroism than reluctance to leave behind the only home he knows.
  • High-Tech Hexagons: Both the red pressure plates and the purple containment fields are composed of these.
  • Hint System: Very downplayed. There are a grand total of three messengers you can find, each of whom can only help you once, and you have to solve a whole bunch of puzzles just to find them in the first place.
  • History Repeats: At the entrance of World B, you can find a terminal with a document telling about the Library of Alexandria and the Oxyrhynchus Papyri: many important documents were lost forever when the former was destroyed, while many trivial documents were recovered intact in the latter. The document points out the importance of ensuring our important documents are preserved. Immediately after that, the first terminal you find has a transcription of a song's extremely silly lyrics, and is even completely readable, as opposed to most others documents in the archive, which are either lost to corruption or with missing fragments.
  • Hitbox Dissonance: The shock balls can interrupt lasers that pass just above them but shouldn't be interrupted according to their visible models.
  • Holy Pipe Organ: The title theme, "Virgo Serena", combines a pipe organ and Gregorian choir, fitting as The Talos Principle contains a lot of religious symbolism. In the game itself, "Virgo Serena" plays in the World C hub, which appears to be the interior of a church.
  • Hub Level: The "stage" maps have three or four puzzles each. These are connected together by three Hub Levels, each with a different theme that extends into the puzzle maps. These hubs in turn are linked by another hub with a fourth theme. You start the game in what is otherwise an ordinary puzzle map.
  • Humanity's Wake: This is the backstory, although it takes a lot of digging by the player-character to find out. A virus released from permafrost by Climate Change infected the world before it could be identified, meaning the human race collectively had a few weeks to live. Some of them chose to spend that time creating a computer system that would serve primarily as a preserve of all human knowledge and culture, but also to try to eventually create an AI that would be advanced enough to appreciate these records. Decades later, the project is nearing completion, but the records are corrupted nearly to oblivion, leaving the AI to try to fit together the pieces. The Road to Gehenna DLC expands this by showing a community of A.I.s who spent their time trying to reverse-engineer human culture using the few tidbits of information available to them.
  • Interactive Fiction: The Road to Gehenna DLC features a forum where the robots submit their own works. Some of them (mainly the works by The_Blacksmith) fall into this. Fortunately, You Can't Get Ye Flask is averted and the game automatically gives you the options, only having to choose one.
  • Interface Spoiler: A great many puzzles have names that directly hint at the respective puzzle's solution. Actually facilitating said solution is another matter, but paying attention to the name when entering a new area is never a bad idea regardless.
  • Invisible Wall: The levels without walls are relatively common, but if you try to stray too far from the puzzle area, you are treated to Elohim's Broken Record announcement (above). If you push on, you die. The explanation to that is you can only exist within the boundaries of the simulated world, which are pretty limited.
  • Ironic Echo: In the main game, a document can be found named post437_comments, featuring one commenter replying "first!" at the beginning and "last" at the very end. In Road To Gehenna, one thread starts and ends with 401 saying the exact same. Given a big part of the game is whether or not these AIs can be considered "people", it seems just a little important.
  • It's All Upstairs from Here: The "Free Will" ending. The "Messenger" ending starts out like this, but the elevator's sixth and final level is actually a basement.
  • Jigsaw Puzzle Plot: The terminals and Alexandra's recordings comprise the bits and pieces of the story.
  • Jump Scare: After "Road of Death", a recording of a previous robot will show up without warning, quickly approaching you and emitting a sound much like the Headless Kamikazes from the Serious Sam series. Considering you spend the whole game alone, and the only sound you usually hear is Elohim's voice, it's really unexpected to encounter suddenly a blue man screaming and running towards you.
  • Laser-Guided Karma: Humanity as a whole received this when it suffered extinction due to a virus released by Climate Change.
  • Last-Second Ending Choice: Most of the discussions with Milton don't make any difference towards the ending regardless of what you say. The key conversation is the last, when Milton asks you if there's something where you admit you're wrong. Refusing to admit any mistake will eventually lead to shutting down Milton. Admitting to some mistakes, but not all, will lead to Milton getting angered and becoming a Sore Loser. Declaring everything you said was a mistake will lead to making a deal with Milton. There's a few earlier conversations that can lead to Milton offering a deal later if taking the right choice (for example, when Milton asks you what would you do if you were in the real world, you would have to answer the best for yourself, regardless of any moral code), but they are also triggered in World C, not long before the final conversation.
  • Leap of Faith: In the Messenger Island from World C, it's possible to find a statue of a woman on an isolated island and a bust of a man. There is a Uriel message stating that love overcomes all obstacles. While standing in front of the bust, walking straight for the statue reveals that there is an invisible path leading to the island. There's also an Assassin's Creed reference in level 5 of the Tower that hints at a nearby star.
  • Light and Mirrors Puzzle: Most of the puzzles in the game involve using faceted "connectors" to create beams between laser emitters and receivers to power devices or remove obstacles. Unlike typical mirror puzzles, angle is not an issue, and the main aspect of challenge comes from finding valid line of sight between all of the desired targets.
  • Mad Lib Thriller Title
  • Meaningful Name: The names of the generations and other entities you encounter during the course of the game appear to be related to the viewpoint they express.
    • Alexandra - A feminization of Alexander, probably in reference to Alexandria, once home to the largest library in human history. She was the main proponent of the SOMA/TALOS project, which at a base level is a repository of humankind's collected knowledge and culture.
    • D0G. – It is possible that this name is meant as a reversal of God. It is also a reference to the Greek Cynics (Cynic meaning 'dog-like'). This is lampshaded in Road to Gehenna when he begins one message with "Call me a cynic, but..." D0G is consistently antagonistic towards everything in existence. Pretty much like Diogenes (Greek Philosopher and one of the founders of the Cynic philosophy)was, according to historians, in real life. Reading the name "D0G" as "Dee-oh-Gee" will certainly give you a further hint.
    • Elohim - One of many Hebrew names for God, which is used most prominently in the first chapter of Genesis, the beginning of the Garden of Eden narrative in which he creates the world and humankind. El claims to be the creator of the player character and everything they behold, and refers to the world as a Garden. It turns out later that Elohim put his majestic name together from his two designations. EL-0 is Extended Lifespan Zero (one of two project mainframes which he resides on) and HIM is Holistic Integration Manager (a proto-AI storyteller program that was developed to generate content for online role-playing games from user data). Tasked with running the simulation that its human creators barely saw in alpha while alive, the diligent EL-0 HIM gradually congealed into a Demiurge figure and settled in.
    • Milton - Named for John Milton, most famous for Paradise Lost, a work which has been deemed by many to be sympathetic to Satan, including by William Blake, mentioned in one of the texts to be Alexandra's favorite poet. He takes the role of devil's advocate, striving to undermine every belief you proclaim and sow doubt in the nature of the world you're in.
    • 1w/Faith (One with faith) – lacks doubt and argues against it. When Faith terminated it said that the serpent, or doubt, had entered its heart, and then begat Samsara and Sheep.
    • Samsara – A complex word with many meanings. Relates to the game in that the Samsara person argues that the nature of existence is cyclical, and that the individual’s only logical course of action is to be detached from the process and accept it as it is.
    • Sheep – Consistently looks for guidance from others. Unsure of its own opinions.
    • Shepherd – In a broader sense, Shepherd appears dedicated in its attempts to have a goal for existence. This goal is especially seen as a community goal. Shepherd basically guides towards a higher understanding.
    • Keep in mind that many of the names of these generations were pulled (in-universe) from usernames of a video game forum to randomly seed by the human developers.
    • This also goes for some of the puzzle names, which when taken literally reveal the key to easter eggs; e.g. the puzzle named 'Shoot the Moon' is the only one from which you can shoot a laser at the moon and reveal the Aperture Science logo.
  • Mechanical Evolution: The point of the protagonist's existence and the world it inhabits. The goal of the program is to have the nameless protagonist evolve from a basic AI to a full-fledged artificial consciousness. You're playing either at or near the end of the process, depending on your choices at the end.
  • Mind Screw: The Milton Library Assistant asks the player a variety of personality questions and uses them to psychoanalyze the player, particularly to summarize their world philosophy and then find holes in it.
  • Minimalist Cast: There are only two characters that interact with the player directly, Elohim and Milton, and neither appears onscreen. There are also only two voices, Elohim's and Alexandra Drennan.
  • Mood Whiplash: The numerous easter eggs can cause this, breaking the immersion of the story. There's also an in-universe instance — in one level, a glitch causes the sky to go dark and the textures to start to disappear. Elohim notices and makes a pronouncement about how he will not allow this sort of thing, and the world reasserts itself. It sounds very godly and majestic, but once the glitch is fixed he announces, "Excess data cleared" as if he was no more than a maintenance program.
    • The most egregious example by far can be found at the end of Road To Gehenna if you put together the leprechaun statue in the first zone of the DLC. Once you have completed all four zones and head to the center of the hub in order to initiate the Ascension with the world on the verge of collapse around you, the gathered Gehenna denizens suddenly break into a riverdance routine, complete with cheery Irish music.
  • Motive Rant: Not a direct one, but there is a secret room where you can listen to Elohim explain why he doesn't want you to go to the tower, on an endless loop. It's because if you do, the simulation reaches its goal and ends, and Elohim wants the simulation to go on forever.
  • Multiple Endings: Three in total. From easiest to hardest, they are:
    • "Eternal Life": By going through the glowing doors in Hub C, you accept Elohim's wisdom. The simulation will evaluate your viability as an AI, and at the end, the words "Independence check.........FAILED!" will appear, meaning you have not met the simulation's standards. The game then resets you all the way back to the beginning where you first wake up after this.
    • "Free Will": By climbing to the top of the tower, you defy Elohim's will and end the simulation once and for all. You are uploaded to a robot body in the real world, and find yourself looking over the ruins of civilization.
    • "Blessed Messenger": By gathering all the stars and gray sigils, and solving the puzzles on floor 6, you prove yourself worthy to become Elohim's messenger, helping future generations of your kind achieve enlightenment.
    • Road to Gehenna has four endings, which depend on finding stars and how you interact with the message board throughout the game. The endings are broadly similar, the only differences being the voiceover you get from Elohim afterward and whether Uriel or Admin are ascended with the rest of the bots. The four endings are: Admin is still imprisoned, Admin allows Uriel to ascend, Uriel allows Admin to ascend, Admin is free but neither he nor Uriel ascend.
  • Names Given to Computers:
    • One possibility for how Elohim got its name. Elohim is the simulation's Holistic Integration Manager, sort of an AI dungeon master, and the supercomputer is divided into three partitions, including EL-0 that the simulation is running in; EL-0 HIM.
    • The various names of the other bots, who left behind messages (as well as your own characters name) are mentioned in one document as basically being video game handles dumped into a randomizer, due to a lack of time and anything better to use. If one of your Steam friends got the "Blessed Messenger" ending, their name may be used for one of the Messengers that can give you a puzzle hint.
  • Nice Job Fixing It, Villain!: Depending on your choices when speaking with Milton, eventually you can reach a point where Elohim will allow (or depending on your point of view, force) you to shut down the Milton program. Doing so resets the security blockade on the stairway that leads to the Tower, allowing you to climb it against Elohim's wishes.
  • No Antagonist: Neither Elohim or Milton actually wants you to fail. Milton is just programmed to insert doubt in the simulation and encourage critical thinking, and Elohim is simply reluctant to be defied, knowing that will end the simulation and quite possibly kill him, but he never actually turns hostile and congratulates you should you succeed. Samsara does try to prevent you climbing the tower, though that one is functionally an antagonist to The Shepherd more than to the player, as the obstacles she throws up never render the puzzles unsolvable.
  • No Fair Cheating: If you try to use a hexahedron to push a jammer on the opposite side of a door it's jamming, one of the developers will appear and put the jammer back on the side it belongs.
  • Ominous Latin Chanting: Virgo Serena, the music that is played on the title screen and in World C.
  • Pixel Hunt: A 3D example. Connector puzzles gradually become this as they increase in difficulty. The hardest puzzles require finding a specific spot to place your connector so that it can draw appropriate line of sight through different elements. In puzzles like "Time Crawls", the margin for error is minimal and putting the connector a few centimetres away won't work.
  • Posthumous Character: Alexandra Drennan, the researcher who left the audio recordings.
  • Prisoner's Dilemma: A variant of the game appears in the expansion Road to Gehenna on the message board that you explore within the game world. This version is meant as a combination game and social experiment, and has somewhat unconventional rules: if both participants "betray", each earns two points. If both "co-operate", neither person earns any points. If one betrays and the other co-operates, the former receives one point and the latter three points. Whoever has the most points at the end of the round loses. In contrast to the original dilemma, the participants are able to communicate beforehand, making the game more about bluffing than principles. Because of the way the points are awarded, the only way to win is to convince the opponent to co-operate while you betray (after which point, both parties will sensibly betray until the game ends).
  • Quest for Identity: The game allows the player character, a robot dropped off in the middle of a mysterious island, to optionally go on a quest to find out its identity and purpose as it solves the various puzzles the world presents, or alternatively ignore this burning question and do as the AI calling itself Elohim tells it to.
  • Ragnarök Proofing: Invoked as a part of the Fling a Light into the Future: EL is an Extended Lifespan supercomputer, designed both to host the archive and run the simulation. EL is housed in a hydroelectric dam, both of which have run without failure for what must be decades at least, based on the overgrowth seen outside. Even that wasn't perfect, as by the time the player comes around, the archive shows signs of corruption, and the simulation is starting to have various glitches.
    • The amount of time that passed after the calamity is hinted to be extremely long. The very first, non-spoilery terminal in the game states that the last network connection was established 9,999 years ago. On one hand, this readout is surrounded by similarly random and glitched data. On the other, the terminal says that the vast archive was reduced from several petabytes to mere dozen gigabytes in the meantime. It's unlikely that such corruption (and timer "running out of bits") could occur in mere decades. The same message also hints that the AI programs took certain liberties with the data and invalidated what didn't serve their own purposes.
  • Recursive Reality: One terminal document is an e-mail from Alexandra Drennan explaining to the IAN team her idea of creating the simulation. This e-mail includes some hex codes, which when translated to ASCII indicate that the game engine the simulation is based upon is the "Serious Engine 7.5, which Croteam have kindly made available to us." The Talos Principle was made using Croteam's Serious Engine 4.
  • Red Herring: Several puzzles contain elements or architecture that aren't useful to the solution and are just there to mislead. However, some elements are also there in order to reach a star.
  • Reincarnation: As understood by a machine. If you choose to follow Elohim's directives, the "eternal life" you are given means that your personality and puzzle progress is reset, with those aspects deemed desirable by the simulation preserved and those insufficient being randomly altered. All of the bots who left QR messages went through the same process, except Shepherd, who remained on the tower to help others ascend, and Samsara, who remained on the tower to stop others from ascending.
  • Ridiculously Human Robots: All the AI bots, at least those evolved enough to leave QR messages, have very human traits. Justified as making a robot with a human-like mentality is the point of the simulation.
  • Right-Hand Cat: Only seen on the cover art, unless you find the right easter egg.
  • Rise to the Challenge: If you chose to climb the tower past the fifth floor, above the dark cloud, you enter a single long puzzle that takes you up several vertical levels. But that cloud begins to rise as you work through it, and failure to complete the puzzle before the cloud consumes you will cause you to die and restart the puzzle.
  • Rousseau Was Right: Unusually for an End of the World scenario, humanity accepts its fate gracefully. Rather than descend into anarchy, society goes on, and the declining population continues to support the Talos Project and each other until the end.
    "You know what the oddest thing is about all this? We're not constantly fighting, having nervous breakdowns, screaming at each other. We're actually really polite and focused, and we spend most of our time debating the nature of humanity and how we can best succeed at probably the most ambitious thing anyone's ever tried. Like it was completely normal, like that's just how people are. I feel like we've turned into Star Trek characters or something."
  • Ruins for Ruins' Sake: Every ruin you come across in game is like this. Justified in that you're part of a computer program meant to test AIs' intelligence, as well as their humanity and ruins meant to lend themselves to puzzles take precedent over those that serve any functional purpose to anyone who may have inhabited them.
  • Running Gag: Frogs are people too. Originally you can argue this with Milton, and if you find the floppy disc with Serious Sam: The Text Encounter on it in Road to Gehenna, you can argue that with Ennui. In addition, you can write "Frogs are people too" on a wall with the paint bucket if you trigger the former conversation.
  • Scenery Gorn: The "Free Will" ending features the destruction of the entire simulation before you are uploaded to the SOMA/TALOS unit.
  • Scenery Porn: The levels, mimicking ruins of Roman, Egyptian, and Gothic architecture, are very beautiful to look at when the puzzles can get a bit tough. The Messenger levels are just breathtaking, and the music there only makes it more so. That you can't simply run off from the puzzles and explore them (it's a computer simulation even in-universe, with the world glitching out if you do so) is as thematically fitting as it is often saddening.
  • Schmuck Bait:
    • For what reason is that tower there, really, if you are not allowed to enter?
    • In one of the desert areas, there is a tree with a sign labelled "don't look up". If you actually do look up, a fruit falls on your head.
  • Schrödinger's Gun: In Road to Gehenna, the order the robots are encountered is predetermined. Regardless of which order you choose to complete the puzzles, the first robot you free will always be the same, as well as the second, the third, etc.
  • Scrapbook Story: Some of the text fragments in the library terminals form one of these.
  • Shout-Out: So many they have their own page.
  • Shut Up, Hannibal!:
    • In the final interaction with Milton, it's possible to give it one of these. It suffers a minor Villainous Breakdown before spitefully becoming a Broken Record until you stop talking to it.
    • If you find the floppy disc with Serious Sam: The Text Encounter on it in Road to Gehenna, you'll have access to a short story where Serious Sam argues with Ennui, a representation from his "feeling of sadness and boredom" (and clearly an Expy of Milton). After Ennui gloats about how he will twist Sam's words to make him feel like an idiot and makes Straw Nihilist claims (much like Milton), Sam decides to shoot Ennui in the face.
  • Silliness Switch: The Serious Sam DLC includes one, described above in the Shout-Out section, which gives you the option to change Elohim's voice to Serious Sam's, and Sam is completely irreverent and snarky about everything in-game, rather than the philosophical talks of Elohim. It also lets you change your character from the android you play as normally to Serious Sam as well.
  • Sliding Scale of Free Will vs. Fate: A bit of a running theme throughout the game, especially when talking with Milton, who is convinced there's no such thing as free will. The game itself falls roughly into the idea that fighting fate is hard, at least for the robots running around in the program, as it takes at least 100 generations to find one bot that is willing to defy Elohim's guidance, climb the tower, and be able to climb to the very top and end the simulation.
  • Sliding Scale of Robot Intelligence: A.I.s stretch between level 3 and 5, at least in appearance. The player is naturally a level 3, capable of solving complex puzzles as good as anyone but isolated, but not incapable, of social situations. The MLA is about a 3.5. Clearly smarter than the player, if only because they restrict the player's dialogue boxes, but still not omnipotent. Elohim, on the other hand, begins at a 5, pretending to be completely omnipotent and the creator of everything, but is soon revealed to only be a 4, and incapable of doing anything that the player does not want it to do.
  • Sliding Scale of Silliness vs. Seriousness: Taking place in a computer simulation humans set up Just Before the End and still running After the End prefers to remain serious almost all the time, yet occasionally (if you look) descends into silliness with gleeful abandon, mostly in the various text logs you can find, though occasionally elsewhere.
  • Spiritual Successor: To co-writer Jonas Kyratzes's earlier game about an AI questioning human spirituality in what might be the ashes of our civilization.
  • Spoiler Title: Some of the puzzle titles tell you how to solve them. Similarly, if you know your Bible, Road To Gehenna pretty much gives away the plot of the DLC. Gehenna is a Hebrew version of hell, so the title refers to the proverb "The road to hell is paved with good intentions."
  • Star-Shaped Coupon: The stars required to unlock the bonus areas to collect the gray sigils required to achieve the Blessed Messenger ending.
  • The Stinger: In the Tower Ascent ending, seemingly nothing is different if you choose to upload Milton (and you have the option to remark on that). After the credits roll, though, up pops the eye logo, with the same beeps the terminals used to get your attention.
  • Take That!: One text discusses the fact that various important books from the Library of Alexandria were destroyed, while various unimportant texts that were carelessly thrown away have managed to survive to this day. The following appears in regards to the latter: "(...) if we want our descendants to remember more than glittering emo-vampires and autotuned teen pop stars (...)"
  • Time Capsule: Alexandra left several recordings in the Archive, hoping somebody would find them after humanity has gone extinct. These recording can be heard in-game by approaching glowing, floating blue figures that appear throughout the game.
  • Timey-Wimey Ball: Shepherd, being trapped in the Tower outside the normal bounds of the simulation, is somehow able to communicate with previous generations and give them advice.
  • Title Drop: "The Talos Principle" in-universe is a philosophical concept usually summarized by the last sentence: "Even the most faithful philosopher cannot live without his blood." To oversimplify, it states that having an existence hinging on the presence of one particular substance is the great equalizer that transcends any distinction between humans and machines. Another concept emphasized by the principle (and more pertinent to the quote above) is the fragility of such an existence, wherein losing that substance is tantamount to annihilation. As evidenced by the secret room in C1, Elohim's greatest fear is that he is also subject to this principle, meaning that he is not as immortal as he constantly tells the player he is.
  • Too Awesome to Use: The Messenger hints are a subversion. You get a maximum of three for the whole game, and although you need to solve a whole lot of its 120+ puzzles to even unlock them, there's still plenty of riddles left to use them on. The problem is that they tend to be so vague and generic they usually don't tell you anything but the current puzzle's most basic approach while the info you actually need to proceed would be much more specific.
  • Translation Train Wreck: The Polish and Italian translations of the game had major translation issues on release, which Croteam chalks up to "unfinished/wrongly exported localization files." They are working quickly to resolve the issues, to their credit.
  • The Unpronounceable: One of the bots you can find QR codes from is named %§&$§/$&(#().
  • Vent Physics: The fan operates its own set of physics which are distinct from the more realistic rules used otherwise in the game. Any bot or block, including items carried by such, placed directly in front of the fan is flung along a specific fixed trajectory, regardless of the target's total weight or its momentum prior to entering the fan.
  • The Very Definitely Final Dungeon:
    • In the main game, there's the Tower. That's five floors with puzzles requiring all the mechanics you've used during the game, then some timed puzzles on top of the tower, with two robots (one helping you, one hindering you). After that, you finally get the best ending.
    • In the Road to Gehenna DLC, there's the Secret World where the gray sigils are located. Only accessible after you've acquired at least 10 stars, it requires to do a series of jumps across several fans over the void, just to reach the entrance. Once there, you'll find a collection of the seven hardest puzzles in the game (both the DLC and the main campaign), which provide you with the sigils required to free Admin, leader of the robots you've been freeing during the DLC. Just to reinforce it, the song played there isn't the usual music which plays in forest exteriors like that place, but instead the song that plays outside of the tower in the main campaign.
  • What Measure Is a Non-Human?: Discussed by the interactions with Milton and some of the text fragments.
  • Whole Plot Reference: The plot of the game is basically the Garden of Eden story with AIs.
  • The World Is Just Awesome/Patrick Stewart Speech: The overall thrust of Alexandra's voice messages.
  • You Have Researched Breathing: Among the objects you have to unlock the ability to use are a box (though given the fancy moniker of "hexahedron") and a sort of platform that you can carry things around on.


How well does it match the trope?

Example of:


Media sources: