The Turing Test (Switch) review
"Forget convincing me you're human, just convince me you are worth engaging"
A Turing Test is a test to determine if a computer can be considered conscious; if you can't tell the difference between talking to a computer or an actual human, it passes. In this game, the Turing test takes the form of a series of puzzles that only a human should be able to solve. And so the game stars an astronaut and her artificial intelligence partner going through these tests. And the astronaut's name is Ava... Turing. And she doesn't know what a Turing test is. And despite talking about it, the coincidence of her last name is never brought up. Hold up, I call a Turing test failure here; I declare this plot was designed by a computer and not by a human. Because there ain't no way a human could come up with something that blatantly contrived.
OK, snark aside, I... no, nevermind. Snark NOT aside. I tend to treat plots in my reviews with cynical bemusement, and this game is a perfect example of WHY. Ava is the pilot of the first Europa (a moon of Jupiter's that is covered in ice) mission. Something goes wrong on the moon, and the AI (T.O.M.) wakes her out of cryosleep and sends her down there. Only it seems the crew rebelled against TOM and designed the Turing Test puzzles to keep him out but let her in. And it's all due to their mysterious discovery. And so the plot goes on, with Tom talking to Ava throughout the puzzles a la Portal and the occasional pause to rummage through the crew's personal belongings to unravel the mystery. It's all supposed to be deep and thought provoking and leading you up to the important decision at the end.
Except, well, I wasn't invested in any of it. The crew are so unprofessional and shockingly dumb as to not be believable, Ava is a completely naive and clueless simpleton despite being an elite astronaut, the space agency is evil for no reason, and Tom is as subtle as a sledgehammer. Why am I supposed to care about any of these people when none of them seem realistic (in fairness, there's a plot reason for Ava being dumber than a box of rocks). Oh, and you can get most of the story within the first 2 chapters, making the revelations later on superfluous. But I'm supposed to care. I'm supposed to be invested. I'm supposed to make a critical decision at the end that reveals my inner nature. Isn't that the power of interactive entertainment?
But I wasn't. My choice at the end was simply idle curiosity to see how the developers would end it, it had nothing to do with what I would "really do" in a situation (oh, and by the way, the ending too was a disappointment). I simply refuse to believe such a premise would exist in the real world; the choices are too simplistic, the characters too outrageous, to be meaningful.
Maybe it's just me, a lot of this is very subjective, after all. The concepts that were brought up aren't bad per se, just the execution. In fairness, while not spoiling anything, a simple fix of making the discovery accidental instead of intentional would have helped the believability, so you can simply pretend otherwise to get slightly more invested in the plot. And if the reveal can be pieced together early, is that really the end of the world? Like I said, normally I would approach this with my normal cynical bemusement. It's just, well, this is a first person puzzle game. It's literally nothing but dialogue and puzzles. The rooms all look the same (a simplistic sci fi setting), and with the view in first person there isn't even any interesting animations or cinematics. The plot is 50% of the game. But since a lot of this is subjective, hopefully you'll like it better.
Of course, the other side is puzzles... which are also highly subjective. Great, I guess reviewing this game is worthless. But soldiering on anyway, the key gimmick in this game is electricity. These power everything: doors, platforms, light bridges, magnets, conveyor belts, whatever. A single energy source can connect to different lines, and it is even possible for a line's power to be reversed along the way (so you have to cut the power in order to charge it, don't ask me how). While a portable energy source container can be carried around, most of the time you are using your "gun" to suck up or shoot out up to three sources. Oh, and those sources can have different properties. Blue energy balls are normal, but green/purple balls flicker on and off (the two colors being out of phase with each other), while red balls only have a very temporary charge. You also can't change the order of them inside your gun, so make sure you suck them up in the proper order. The goal, then, is to manipulate all of these energy sources into the right energy sockets at the right time while also manipulating pressure switches and those magnets and anything else that might come in your way. All to reach the door at the end, which leads to a small hallway followed by another puzzle. Rinse, wash, repeat 70 times, with story breaks every 10 levels.
But, like I said, puzzles are highly subjective based on perceived difficulty. Some people can do complex equations in their head, other people struggle with 2X + 1 = 3. So given that uncertainty, I will state that the game is fair, albeit on the easy side. While every once in a while there may be a red herring tossed your way, you usually have exactly as many tools as you need to solve the problem. Even if a situation seems overwhelming or impossible at first, most become trivial once you start breaking it down. I need to go through that door to reach the end and it is controlled by a floor switch, so that energy box needs to sit on it. But that also closes the door before the final door. So I need the box to not be on the switch until I get past the first door. That means I need the energy box to be attached to the magnet above the switch, then turn the magnet off after I get past the first door. Which means... well, you get the point. Frankly, the longest I was stumped was about half-way into the game, which is when you need the jump button for the first time. I had no idea there was a jump button, it wasn't intuitive. I thought the game was glitched.
But while they are easy, that doesn't mean they aren't satisfying; you do still need to figure each one out and thus still feel an accomplishment at making it past each one. It does take time to puzzle some of them through, and many of them are designed so that you can't see everything all at once. So you can think you have it figured out, make it past 3 obstacles, then discover a fourth that will make you rethink your energy ball management. And it isn't even frustrating when that happens, because each level is relatively short and it doesn't take long to puzzle out where you went wrong. And besides, you feel like it was your fault for thinking it was too easy, so there is an incentive to try to think ahead and anticipate new puzzles. Despite the minimalist presentation, levels are not maze-like and will not leave you mixed up spatially; thankfully the developers were smart enough to use different colored lighting to help distinguish all of the otherwise identical looking rooms. And regardless of the quality of the plot, breaking the puzzles up into small manageable chunks, with larger chunks every 10 levels, means it all feels like a breeze, giving you a sense of progress while providing clear goals. And hey, if the 70 normal levels are too easy, there are also 7 optional levels that are meant to push your observational skills to the limit. So there is at least some challenge.
Plot and puzzle design may be highly subjective, but ultimately I can't shake the feeling that this is the offbrand Portal. It's missing the humor and the clever gimmick, of course. It tries to bring up deep philosophy and a story that sticks with you, but doesn't quite have the chops to support the attempt. The puzzles are fair, worth conquering, but also somewhat simplistic. Offbrands of classics is a common theme in Indie games, of course, so it shouldn't be surprising that this is, once again, a "not as good but a whole lot cheaper" situation (although isn't Portal dirt cheap now too?). If you enjoy these sort of first person puzzlers, this is a decent enough example of the genre, perfectly adequate. But if you are new to the genre, other options may be better to start at unless you are price sensitive.
And who puts jump on the X button, anyway?
[As an aside, if anyone cares about the Switch performance, it's perfectly fine. There are only two annoyances; an unfortunate 1-2 second loading between rooms, and the subtitles were often out of sync (and I have no clue if that's a Switch problem or not).]
Community review by mariner (September 10, 2022)
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