Game Review: The Turing Test Will Test Your Moral Fiber

The Turing Test is a new first person puzzle game, much like Portal and The Talos Principle. The player controls Ava Turing, a scientist who is investigating the disappearance of a ground team on Europa (a moon of Jupiter, and may I recommend the film Europa Report to those unfamiliar?). Assisting her is the Technical Operative Machine (T.O.M) AI, who helped build the underground base on Europa and up until 500 hours ago, ran the place alongside the base commander. Upon arrival, Ava and Tom discover that the ground team has arranged the base into a series of puzzles—Turing tests, only solvable by humans because AI lack the ability to think laterally.

To be clear, it doesn't exactly re-invent the wheel. The appeal comes from a plot that delves into the philosophical debate about artificial intelligence and freedom. The game is also utterly gorgeous. Developed on the Unreal Engine 4, my only real complaint about the visuals is that most of the puzzle rooms look the same, so any variety in environment is sadly brief.

The puzzles are fun, and new elements are introduced along the way. However, there are seventy puzzle rooms. For the most part, the puzzles are not very challenging. Only the seven optional rooms and a handful of the mandatory ones ever had me stumped, and I breezed through the chapters. After a while the game felt bloated, and I can’t help but compare it to Portal in that regard. Portal never overstays it’s welcome, The Turing Test does.

I also had a huge issue with the audio logs that you need to listen to in order to piece the plot together. Subtitles are an option for the real world dialogue, but the audio logs are not subtitled.  The audio logs are of terrible, terrible quality and taking away subtitles just makes it impossible for the hard of hearing to understand. I get that the human crew is intentionally trying to be hard to understand so they have some privacy from Tom, but what’s the point of not subtitling it for the player? I had to look up what was being said online.

I found it somewhat humorous that despite taking place centuries into the future, our technology has only developed so far. My PC looks more hi tech than the computers in their labs, and they’re using tablets more primitive that what is available now.

I also found it suspicious fairly early on in the game that Tom is allegedly incapable of solving these puzzles, and then after a certain point, Ava needs TOM’s help to operate various cameras and robots to solve puzzles. There’s even at least two puzzles where Tom does all the work. Why would the crew set up the puzzles that way?

Spoilers below, you’ve been warned.

After the second chapter, you enter the crew quarters. They aren’t there, but you can read their journals and notes. It turns out that the doctor, Mikhail, suspected that Tom controls the crew through implants in their hands, installed under the pretense that it allows Tom to monitor their health. He chops off his arm to get rid of Tom’s influence, and puts the rest of the crew on anti-depressants which allegedly dampens his abilities to control them. They have also discovered a virus on Europa. It has a symbiotic relationship with the organisms it infects; it repairs their DNA so that they can withstand the radiation on Europa. This makes the host organism biologically immortal. It can be killed, but it never ages. The crew is understandably excited, but then decides to test the virus on themselves to expedite the results of their research.

A record scratch sounded off in my head. That’s insanely unethical. That would never ever get past an ethics committee. What the hell were they thinking?

And this is also where Ava turns out not to be the greatest example of a female protagonist. She’s kind of a total dunce and needs Tom to help her understand anything. Chapters later, Sarah tells her about the implant and virus again. I know, I thought during Sarah and Tom’s dialogue. We read about this earlier in the game. But Ava acts like it’s brand new information to her, and she is angry with Tom. Tom, for his part, is trying to quarantine the crew on Europa since they infected themselves with a virus that can destroy the entire ecosystem of Earth if they ever return. There’s no way to kill the virus, so they must stay.

Maybe I’m heartless, maybe I fail at being a strong defender of personal freedom. But I feel like that’s a reasonable consequence for intentionally infecting yourself with a strange and dangerous virus. The moral quandary at the heart of The Turing Test was a no-brainer for me. It sucks for them to live forever on Europa, but maybe they should have thought about that first.

The mind control thing confused me a little so it was harder for me to take a stance on it. Tom says it’s there to prevent human error. But clearly it doesn’t work very well or Tom could have stopped Mikhail from chopping off his arm, or the team from committing mutiny. If he’s only slightly influencing the team, say through releasing hormones to relax them, then yeah that’s unethical and they didn’t have informed consent, but not exactly a reason to totally rebel and doom Earth.

The ending was unsatisfactory for me. Sarah’s single mindedness made no sense to me, nor Ava’s attitude. I decided I wouldn’t even file this game under “games with female protagonists” because ultimately, you are Tom. The only decision in the game is up to him, who you increasingly control and play as. There was little satisfaction in the decision I made, and I replayed the ending just to be sure. The dilemma failed to grip me.

Not even the destruction of companion cubes could move me.
But what if I just misunderstood what the game was really about? I do like the theory that the whole game was merely a simulation for Tom, much like Serial Experiments Lain, because that would excuse many of the problems with the plot. Ultimately the virus and the mind control doesn’t matter, because what really mattered was how Tom felt about it. Through his actions and dialogue with Ava, we can establish that Tom is actually a sentient being, not just a program. It is Ava who is the simulation. It was Tom who was solving all the puzzles all along, through his “mind control” on Ava. Yet I’m not entirely sold on that explanation. The implant and virus plot points don’t feel like red herrings, nor do the puzzles themselves. I can’t shake the feeling that the plot isn’t up to interpretation, but meant to be taken at face value.

As you can probably tell, I have my issues with The Turing Test. There were times when I was raging at the screen because I felt the humans were being so foolish. It was only long after I finished the game that I started thinking about the possibility that it was all a simulation, a game within a game, that I started seeing real value in the plot. I’m still unsure whether I liked the game as a whole, but I have to admit it's been a while since I gave a game this much thought. And, if you’re looking for more puzzle games, while it gets weary you can’t say that 70 puzzles for 19.99 is a bad deal.

The Turing Test was developed by Bulkhead Interactive and published by Square Enix. It is available on Xbox One and on Steam.

Megan “Spooky” Crittenden is a secluded writer who occasionally ventures from her home to give aid to traveling adventurers.