By – Matt Camp

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Some developers can feel very much like one-hit studios. They become focused on releasing different iterations of the same title. With at least six entries in the Serious Sam series, Croatia based Croteam was certainly fitting this mould. With the release of The Talos Principle at the end of 2014, Croteam have proven they are capable of more than just another Serious Sam title. At its core, The Talos Principle is a smart first person puzzler (playing in an over-the-shoulder third person view is also possible). While the puzzles are the primary focus for the gameplay, the story is steeped in philosophical thought which explores, in part, being human. The Road to Gehenna expansion serves up a new story within The Talos Principle’s world. Set towards the end of the base game, this tale focuses on the task of freeing several imprisoned souls.

Gameplay has changed little compared to the base game. Although there is no longer a need to unlock equipment prior to their use in puzzles. The Talos Principle based puzzles on the use of connectors, hexahedrons, fans, recorders, and platforms. With the exception of the platform, these all make an appearance in Road to Gehenna to some extent. In the base game, I found the recorder to be the most enjoyable puzzle element. This allowed you to solve puzzles by making a recording of your past actions. Where most puzzles required you to solve them only with the pieces currently available to you, the recorder added the need to plan ahead in order to consider which items you could use in the future.

It was an interesting feature which created temporal copies of not just the puzzle items, but of yourself too. Thus allowing you to co-operate with your past. Unfortunately, the recorder is present in only two puzzles in Road to Gehenna, and one of these is very similar to a puzzle in the base game. While the poor offering of recorder puzzles is disappointing, the lack of platform puzzles makes sense. The platform, which was simply used to carry yourself in conjunction with the recorder, was definitely the weakest element used in The Talos Principle. Its omission from the expansion is welcomed.

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The Gehenna region is comprised of four distinct areas, which can be accessed from the hub by visiting the appropriately numbered building. These can be tackled in any order. Most contain four main puzzles in which AI are imprisoned; world 2, however, has five such puzzles. The stages in Road to Gehenna may share the same landscapes as the four lands in The Talos Principle, yet they still have their own distinct appearances.

World 3 for example, uses the Greek ruins landscape with the remnants of a huge viaduct as its centrepiece. World 4 is consists of several floating islands, each reached via the use of a fan. Like the base game, Road to Gehenna also further challenges you to find 16 optional hidden stars (four in each world). Only ten of these stars are required to access an additional stage featuring even more challenging puzzles, the entrance to which is hidden in the hub.

Inline with being an expansion, the base difficulty of puzzles in Road to Gehenna feels higher than the original game. While some of the more difficult puzzles in The Talos Principle allowed you to ask for an in-game hint, there is no such help to be found this time. With no set order in which the puzzles must be solved, players are free to move to a different one should they feel unable to solve the current puzzle.

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Even when reaching Croteam’s intended solution proves too challenging, there is plenty of scope to think outside the box and find unintended ways to progress. I was completely stumped by “Haircut”, eventually devising a solution that involved the careful timing of dropping a connector to block a beam as I jumped towards a fan. This turned out to be a far more complex way to complete the puzzle. The intended method was far simpler, and I admit to feeling a tad stupid after finally discovering the easier solution.

Although no new items are introduced in the Road to Gehenna, Croteam have managed to devise a different way in which the existing connectors are used. Previously players were discouraged from attempting to cross connectors linked to different laser beams. Yet now, are being shown how this can now be used to their advantage. As a result, several puzzles focus on this need, sacrificing variety in order to do so.

The story in Road to Gehenna is delivered entirely though interacting with the terminals found throughout every area. This aspect of the game has been greatly expanded on in comparison to The Talos Principle. Gehenna is composed of a BBS system, thus the tale is delivered through forum topics and posts between the trapped AI. Certain topics will initially be locked until your user level is high enough. Freeing AI advances time, resulting in newer threads. The order in which the AI are released is pre-set. Regardless of which puzzle you initially complete, Garret will always be the first AI set free.

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Croteam have once again turned to other indie developers, specifically Tom Jubert and Jonas Kyratzes, to write the texts. They have done a wonderful job of creating a community that mimics many to be found on the Internet. From fan fictions to trolls, and even over-bearing moderators, the similarities with real communities are very apparent. In addition to this, there are variety games created by Gehenna’s residents to be experienced. Although short and fairly linear, the use of text adventures to convey the opinions of their authors is a nice touch.

Like the title would imply, my time in Road to Gehenna was not always joyous. I had frequent noticeable framerate drops from the high fifties down to the mid forties, lasting over a second. This would result in jerky gameplay where I would suddenly find myself several feet away from my last location or looking in a completely different direction. Such erratic FPS behaviour always occurred after taking a screenshot, but could also happen at other more random points during play. Though this was irritating, it didn’t impact my ability to enjoy the puzzles.

However, I had consistent issues with one specific puzzle, “Transfer”, when playing full screen. After around 3 minutes within that area, I would lose the video display. With the screen blank, and music still continuing, all I could do was force a restart through task manager. I eventually had to select a lower screen resolution and play windowed, in order to complete that puzzle. While other parts of Road to Gehenna stressed my system, none of them suffered the same loss of video.

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Conclusion – Is It Worth Your Money?

I may feel that Road to Gehenna focuses a little too much on basic puzzle elements and not enough – by a long shot – on the more challenging recorder, yet my brain was still suitably engaged. It took me a little over 10 minutes to solve my first puzzle; it was another hour before I managed to work out how to reach the star hidden within it. Nothing beats the exhilaration of completing a puzzle without help. If you enjoyed The Talos Principle and were left craving more puzzle solving goodness, I can wholeheartedly say that Road to Gehenna will satiate that need.

The Talos Principle: Road to Gehenna – Technical Summary

Road to Gehenna Rview Sum

  • Time Played – 23 Hours
  • Widescreen Support – Yes
  • Windowed Mode – Yes
  • Resolution Played – 1920×1080
  • Bugs/Crashes Encountered – Some
  • DRM – Steamworks
  • System Specs – 3.50 GHz i7 3770K , 8GB RAM, 4GB GeForce GTX 960
  • Control Scheme – Mouse and keyboard
  • Game Acquisition Method – Review Copy
  • Availability – Steam
  • Demo – No
  • Saved Game Location – Steam\userdata\257510\remote
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