REVIEW | The Turing Test

Venture into a distant moon base, uncovering the secrets hidden within in this engaging and intelligent first-person puzzler.

After originally being released in 2016, Bulkhead Interactive’s first-person puzzler has finally made its way to Switch; and it’s definitely been worth the wait.

Everyone’s heard of the fox, chicken and grain riddle. You know the one; you have all three on one side of the river and you have to get them across in a boat. You can’t leave the fox and chicken together and you can’t leave the chicken and the grain together, so how do you get all three across? If you have the sort of brain that can solve this puzzle in an instant, you’ll take to The Turing Test with gusto.

“Special mention has to go to the robots that bare a strong resemblance to Johnny-Five from the 80’s classics Short Circuit films.”

It’s a game where you have to get your head around 3D spaces, working out how to slot each of the various pieces together in the right order to move on to the next level. As the door opens on each room you quickly try to get to grips with the puzzle you are presented with, never quite knowing what to expect. It reminds me of seeing contestants enter a new room on the TV show The Crystal Maze, as they frantically try to absorb all of the information in front of them.

Many will draw an obvious comparison to Valve’s masterpiece Portal. For good reason too; like that game you are guided round a series of puzzle rooms by an AI with questionable intentions. The rooms look very similar, all white panels, cubes and moveable platforms. The Turing Test doesn’t have a central mechanic as ingenious as the portal gun, but that’s ok. It’s unrealistic to expect games to repeat Valve’s lightning-in-a-bottle magic. Instead, you solve puzzles with the aid of a gun that can absorb and fire energy orbs that power various things – doors, magnets, pressure pads.

The game does a great job of taking this central mechanic and then progressively building on it by adding layers of complexity throughout the 70 or so levels. Different colour orbs that impact on the flow of power have to be juggled and swapped out. New elements are continuously added which keep the puzzles feeling fresh. At no point did I feel like the game was repeating any ideas throughout the approximately six hours I spent playing it. Special mention has to go to the robots that bare a strong resemblance to Johnny-Five from the 80’s classics Short Circuit films.

Technically, The Turing Test looks and runs great on Switch. There’s the same brief loading pause that precedes each puzzle room that it present on other platforms, which is a shame as it does feel jarring each time. It only lasts a couple of seconds though, so it isn’t something the harms the experience too much. Otherwise though, the frame rate holds up throughout. I couldn’t tell you the resolution it runs at – it looks a little soft around the edges but not hugely so. There are some nice lighting effects and some of the more intricate rooms use colour well to help you keep track of where you are with things. All told, it’s a pretty game given its moon base setting.

It feels right at home on Switch. Nintendo have always made the point that some deeper home-console experiences don’t always work so well when played portably in more bite-sized chunks. However The Turing Test’s puzzle rooms though can individually be solved quite quickly, so it’s perfect to play even if you’ve only got a quick 10 minutes spare. If a room’s solution doesn’t present itself to you immediately then with some fun experimentation you can usually find the way to open the exit door. Personally I didn’t find the game too difficult, but that’s a positive in my view. There are optional side rooms that are much more taxing, but generally the difficulty was balanced finely enough that most rooms were a challenge to solve, but not so challenging that you end up frustrated. The narrative is such that you want to move quickly through the game.

You control Ava, a member of a team sent to Jupiter’s moon Europa to excavate its resources. Ava starts the game by being woken from cryogenic stasis and told by the space station’s AI named ‘T.O.M’ that contact has been lost with the ground crew. You’re sent down to the moon to investigate the situation. I won’t go into why the moon-base has been arranged into a series of puzzle rooms, but just know that there is a good reason. The opening of the game is great though, it does a great job of setting up the suspense, intrigue and apprehension that permeate the game.

Ava herself doesn’t have too much agency in the game, she mainly follows the instructions T.O.M. gives her. It is T.O.M. that’s the real star of the show. He is voice acted brilliantly and does the bulk of the work in driving the story forward. He gets all the best lines too, some of which are darkly funny due to the cold, rational logic he applies to situations. Further depth to the story can be gained from diligently reading all of the diary entries or listening to the audio logs scattered about several areas that are spaced throughout the game. These are areas like a research lab or the crew’s quarters which also have nice environmental clues scattered about too if you take the time to see them. These areas give almost walking-sim like breaks from the main gameplay, and were always welcome chances to learn more about the crew and the events that had taken place.

It’s hard to go into more detail about what the game is really about without entering spoiler territory, but it asks some fundamental philosophical questions around morality, free will and whether an AI can be human (it is called The Turing Test after all). There is a fantastic twist that genuinely shocked me, and the pressure builds to a smart ending which presents you with a moral dilemma in choosing how it plays out. The ideas the game presents have stayed with me and kept me thinking since I finished it.

I really enjoyed my time playing The Turing Test. There’s nothing else like it on the Switch, and its short, well-executed story is hung intelligently on the puzzle-solving gameplay. Some may prefer a harder challenge, but for me the real reward in playing this game came from unfolding its narrative, and I’m glad it didn’t frustrate me in doing so.

Rating: 4 out of 5.