Alan Turing was famous for a great deal of things, such as his time at Bletchley Park helping to decode the enigma machine. But perhaps his most enduring feat was the development of the Turing Test, in which scientists have a human test subject have a conversation with another human and an AI separately, before they’re asked to determine which one was which. Bulkhead’s game borrows this name and sets out to explore what it means to be human in fascinating ways.
Throwing the player off the scent slightly is a titular character that shares the scientist’s surname. Ava Turing is awoken from cryogenic sleep by TOM, the ship’s AI, in order to investigate the disappearance of her crew from a scientific facility on the surface of Europa. Within moments of setting foot on Jupiter’s moon yourself, it becomes clear that all is not what it seems, with the storage rooms having been converted into test rooms. Turing Tests rooms, to be specific.
Tests are generally confined to indoor areas with not a great deal to see beyond the standard puzzle pieces, but there are some wonderful visual moments. The level of detail on Ada’s descent to the moon, the snowy atmosphere outside the base, and even parts of the otherwise quite spartan facility are enthralling. Between each set of puzzles you come to more natural feeling parts of the base, such as the crew’s quarters, which are full of details and things to examine, making those areas feel as if they were once lived in and adding to the game’s story.
The plot doesn’t really manage to tread new ground for science fiction writing, which is a shame, but is brought to life by the performances of the voice actors. Mixing rendered character models for thost that you meet and photos of real people for those that you don’t is somewhat jarring to the overall tone, but the voice acting that accompanies all of them makes the situation all the more convincing and feels human.
The general aesthetic to the test chambers feels fairly derivative of Portal, but Ava has a number of different ways of interacting with each room. These range from manually picking up and placing power blocks in slots, to scooping up and firing power orbs with her Energy Manipulation Tool, which lets her open doors or activate machinery like large electromagnets. The game takes a hands off approach to teaching you what you can do, so there is a hugely rewarding feeling when you figure out how each object works and what you can do with it within the game’s rules.
Of course, this can occasionally make for some rather obtuse problem solving. In my playthrough, I got briefly stuck at two main points. With the game being split into seven areas of ten puzzles each, the time each one takes ranges drastically from a few seconds to several minutes. It largely depends on how well you grasp the mechanics at play; some puzzles see a rather drastic difficulty spike as the game expects you to know the answer from previous puzzles, yet uses other rooms as throwaways in order to introduce new mechanics, such as different coloured power orbs and their various properties.
At the end of each section, a small area will unlock that furthers the plot. These areas range from communal areas to big structures with lots of little nuggets of information from journals, reference material, and audio logs; as well as items left behind that further flesh out the story. More of the plot can be uncovered by walking in side doors which appear once in each chapter and are well worth attempting to solve for the added challenge and the extra snippets of story they can provide.
With each of the side puzzles, there’s a real sense that the tests involved require lateral thinking in order to find the solution. One such puzzle eludes me in this fact, and while it may just be beyond my grasp, I have a nagging feeling that it may be broken, with TOM stating that we can’t yet open the door while subtitles indicate there are “no subtitles”.
One big gripe that I have with The Turing Test is just how long the game takes to load, not only for each chapter, but also the individual puzzles. Playing on Xbox One, there were lengthy loading times between chapters, as well as 20 second loads for each individual room. This may be reduced if you take a while to solve certain puzzles, but it’s something that can hopefully be addressed.
It’s easy to say that The Turing Test gets a passing grade. Lots of thought has clearly gone into how the story plays out, while the puzzles are designed to teach the player without overtly telling you how a new gameplay mechanic works. Little details at the end of each zone and side puzzle flesh out just what’s going on, while the puzzles will test your logical thinking. It’s not without its flaws, but it’s certainly worth a look at for those wanting to scratch that First Person Puzzle itch.
Version Tested: Xbox One