‘The Turing Test’ keeps you thinking
In 1950, the famous British mathematician Alan Turing devised the Turing Test – an assessment protocol designed to distinguish humans from artificial intelligence (AI). Turing’s original test is actually quite simple, but various riffs on the concept have inspired generations of scientists and science fiction writers.
That brings us to “The Turing Test” video game, new to PlayStation 4 after debuting last year on Windows and Xbox One. It’s a first-person POV puzzler that engages both left-brain and right-brain resources through a series of spatial and narrative puzzles.
Players assume the role of Ava Turing, astronaut on a far-future space mission to colonize Europa, one of Jupiter’s moons. When contact with the research station is lost, Ava is awoken from cryogenic sleep by T.O.M., the spaceship’s onboard computer. T.O.M. is the latest in a looong line of ambiguously motivated AI in science fiction – think “Hal” from “2001: A Space Odyssey.”
Ava investigates and finds that the Europa research station has been deserted. Maybe. What’s more, the interior of the sprawling complex has been rearranged into a labyrinth of modular rooms and passages. T.O.M., speaking to Ava by intercom, explains that the station was originally built by robots. In fact, T.O.M. himself was the brains of the operation. But he doesn’t know what’s happened either. Or does he?
“The Turing Test” runs its two basic ideas in parallel. On one level, it’s a straightforward puzzler in which Ava must figure out how to proceed by manipulating doors, locks, lifts, levers and bridges. Her primary tool for this task is the EMT (Energy Manipulation Tool), a handheld zapper that triggers the station’s electrical sockets.
Those who’ve played the excellent “Portal” series will find all this very familiar, and indeed “The Turing Test” can be fairly called a “Portal” clone. In terms of game mechanics, it’s virtually identical.
On the narrative level, however, “Turing” offers a different experience. Early in the game, Ava discovers that the station’s spatial riddles can only be solved by a human, and not an artificial intelligence. The puzzles require both logical and lateral thinking, a mix of reason and intuition that machines can’t manage.
Who rearranged the space station? Why was Ava called in? Is there anybody home on this distant frozen moon? These mysteries provide the second storytelling layer that will keep you motivated as you proceed through the levels.
You’ll need that motivation, because some of these puzzles are tough. “The Turing Game” provides very little hand-holding and you’ll have to decode the game’s system of visual clues and signifiers. The designers have chosen a relatively steep curve and things get more challenging when new puzzle elements are introduced, like robots and cameras.
“The Turing Test” is thoroughly enjoyable, if you’re into this style of puzzler gaming, and it’s the kind of title you can dip into for an hour or so whenever the mood strikes. But there’s no real integration of the game’s narrative and its mechanics. The story is told almost exclusively through exposition from T.O.M. as Ava moves from room to room, solving puzzles.
That’s a shame, because T.O.M. and Ava dig into some intriguing areas regarding machine intelligence, morality and the nature of consciousness. It’s the kind of game that keeps you thinking on multiple levels, so proceed with caution. You don’t want to sprain a frontal lobe.
“The Turing Test” is now available on PlayStation 4, Xbox One and Windows.