Croteam’s The Talos Principle came out on December 2014, but the studio isn’t finished with it just yet. The developers had a small trailer located in the Devolver Digital parking lot at (or at least near) E3. Inside was a spacious area where we tried the same game, only this time in virtual reality. We strapped on an HTC Vive and spent the next 40 minutes trying to solve some of the puzzles at the beginning of the game.
In terms of movement, Croteam utilized the touchpad on both controllers. The left touchpad allowed for 90-degree turns to the left or right, while tapping on the right touchpad let us to move forward, backward, left, or right in small increments while facing forward. We could also press down on the top edges of both touchpads to “warp” ourselves to distant locations.
We use the word "warp" because the game utilizes a variation of the usual locomotion features we saw in other VR titles. Whereas other games will transport you to a different location with a flash or fade in/fade out transition, The Talos Principle VR takes you to your specified spot in a transition akin to a warp effect seen in Star Trek. We didn't find the effect nauseating, but it could be problematic for some people.
On paper, the movement controls make sense, but they didn’t perform as smoothly as you'd expect in practice, especially on the right touchpad. We initially used the left pad as intended: to turn around in a fixed position while we used the right pad to warp around the game map and inch closer to objects. This method worked for a few puzzles where all we had to do was place objects in a general location in order to get a beam of light to activate from one node to another (we grabbed objects with the triggers on the controllers). However, there were later puzzles that required more precise object placements, which meant that we also had to stand as close to that precise spot as possible. The right touchpad controls came in handy in this regard, but it unfortunately conflicted with the warping feature, which was on the same pad. There wasn’t a way to turn off the warping, so it took longer than expected to get in the right spot in order to solve a puzzle.
In terms of grabbing objects with the controllers, we were told that it was possible to grab only one object at a time, which did slow down the rate at which we could solve puzzles. However, this is an appropriate method because it lets you focus on holding a puzzle piece with one hand while using the other hand to move around the area. We also used the same controls to solve small puzzles that incorporated Tetris-shaped blocks. It’s also worth noting that the Vive controllers' side buttons allowed us to jump. We rarely did so in the demo, but it was nauseating when we did.
Graphics-wise, it seems that the game looks similar to its PC and console counterparts. It felt like we were actually in the small wooded areas, which were dotted with man-made puzzle structures. It was a strange transition from being in that world for 40 minutes and then, after we took off the HMD, realizing that we'd explored a small world from the air-conditioned interior of a small trailer in downtown Los Angeles.
Not Bad, But Needs Work
Putting The Talos Principle in the virtual reality space is a welcome addition to the platform. There are numerous times when we saw a game on PC or console and briefly remarked that it would also work well in virtual reality (with a few tweaks, of course). Croteam was able to nail down the unique aspects of The Talos Principle and translate it to virtual reality, but it still needs more work, especially when it comes to movement and teleportation. There’s a fine line between enjoyment and nausea in VR, and developers need to make sure that they’re playing on the safe side, because a highly regarded title can easily be dismissed if new mechanics make it harder for players to enjoy the experience.