The Turing Test: Philosophy, Morality, Puzzles

 

When Portal first came out, it revolutionized what a puzzle game could be. It required the player to think outside the box while making sure to remember the rules of the game, and made the player feel as though they were being utterly creative throughout. Thanks to the influence Portal had on the genre, we are now able to enjoy the next evolution – The Turing Test.

The Turing Test has a relatively simple backstory: Ava Turing is one of six crew members sent to Europa to research the moon and find out what lies below the ice. The game begins with Ava waking up from several years of cryo-sleep on a space station to the soothing voice of the Technical Operations Machine (Tom, for short). He tells her that her crew mates need her help and that he is not able to get in contact with them. Ava descends from the station to the surface of Europa in order to find and help her crew mates.

 

Welcome to the first real puzzle of The Turing Test

 

The game does a very good job of explaining everything to you. Without spoiling anything, there is a complexity to the story that was both unexpected and very exciting. The majority of the plot is told through brief dialogues between Tom and Ava at the beginning of each puzzle, each of which serves not only as exposition and storytelling but also as philosophical prompts, asking the player to analyze the situation and come to their own conclusions.

Additionally, each section of the game (of which there are seven) has an optional puzzle that, when completed, offers further exposition on the story, some philosophical quandary, or a piece of an ongoing conversation about artificial intelligence vis-à-vis whether or not they can be truly conscious. Tom, being an AI himself, also has significant contributions to the discussion the player is encouraged to have with themselves.

 

A particularly disturbing reward to an optional puzzle

 

The gameplay is serviceable. Either keyboard + mouse or console controller works fine, and I felt the game’s difficulty did not change by using one controller over another. The whole game felt pretty tightly put together, which was especially impressive given the size of the studio and that it is their first published game.

The level design is, for the most part, brilliant. While most of the puzzles require only that the player think critically, there is the occasional challenge that requires either platforming or proper timing. Unfortunately, the way the player character handles is somewhat floaty, making these sections aggravating if not overly difficult. I only looked up two puzzles, and both of them were optional ones. The first one I did not understand because it involved something I had not expected the game to allow me to do (100% my fault), and the other I completed but did not understand why it was correct. That said, I never found myself particularly frustrated at any of the puzzles.

 

Some puzzles seem daunting when you first walk in

 

The puzzle mechanics are unique enough or well executed enough that I never found myself thinking that some other game had done the same thing but better. All in all, the game part of The Turing Test was very enjoyable. Addressing the philosophical content of the game, The Turing Test might be one of my favorite though provoking titles next to Dear Esther. While you play as only one character through the game, you are forced to examine the viewpoints of every character you encounter. The game does its best to force uncertainty onto the player, a feeling which only continues to grow as the game progresses.

The questions the game asks are not self-contained, either. Given the direction technology is headed, questions about what makes humans and machines different are becoming more and more relevant. Even the game itself is something of a metaphor, creating situations in which Ava and Tom must work together to achieve a common goal. Thought experiments such as the Chinese room and the imitation game (aka the Turing test) come up again and again, each time asking the player to think just a little harder about why they believe the way they believe.

 

Welcome to the end of civilization

 

As you can probably tell, I had a great time with the philosophical and story background for the game. I progressed as much for the next bit of information I would get as for the next puzzle. I don’t want to oversell the game; it is not perfect. The soundtrack is excellent, but the limited variety means that if a puzzle takes you a little longer than others, you will hear the same bit over and over again.

There is next to no aim assist, which at several points I felt the game could have provided without making the puzzles any less challenging. The representations of Ava’s crew mates that you see appear to be poorly photoshopped still images of some of the developers and it did an excellent job of yanking me out of my immersion. However, none of the issues with the game were so terrible that they stuck in my head for very long.

 

 

The beauty of The Turing Test lies in the lack of hand-holding. Neither the story nor the game play will be explained to you in any way that you wouldn’t have already figured out, and it always allows you to come to your own conclusion. Bulkhead Interactive did an excellent job with this game. It is a short but sweet essay on consciousness and morality, and it shows that Bulkhead really knows what they’re doing. I would highly recommend The Turing Test to virtually anyone.

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