Most of us use a computer at least once a day. If we want to know the weather, we ask our phone. If we want to check our schedule, we scroll through our tablet. If we want to know what the traffic is like, we search it on our laptop. The Turing Test asks us to think about the implications of that ecosystem. It wants us to examine the ways computers integrate into our lives, and, more importantly, how increasingly complex artificial intelligence might play into those issues.
International Space Agency scientist Ava Turing is woken up from a cryogenic sleep by the artificial intelligence T.O.M. He tells her that her crewmates working in an underground space station on the frozen planet Europa are in trouble, and that only she can save them. When the pair travel to the station in question, they find its layout has completely changed; each of its rooms have been repurposed to create a makeshift Turing Test.
As she makes her way further into the base, the truth of what has happened slowly begins to reveal itself through discussions with T.O.M., as well as various audio logs. The former does a serviceable job of exploring artificial intelligence, but occasionally over-simplifies complex moral issues. The latter is an inelegant and contrived means of conveying what has happened to the crew of the Europa.
In spite of this, it's still a compelling, if slightly predictable, yarn. The base itself is an intriguing place to explore, and there is some subtle environmental storytelling at work. What's more, the narrative gives clever context to the gameplay. Ava must work her way through various rooms, solving puzzles, and piecing together what has happened while she's been in cryogenic sleep.
Thus, as unfair as it may be, it's impossible to avoid comparing The Turing Test to Portal. They're both first-person puzzle games about a female protagonist solving self-contained challenge rooms while a voice-over spouts exposition in the background. But where Portal is a game of movement and momentum, Bulkhead Interactive's freshman outing is a game of logic.
Everything electric on the Europa base is powered by small glowing energy orbs. This includes doors, moving platforms, light bridges, and most other standard first-person puzzle objects. Ava is equipped with a gun which allows her to remove these electrical orbs from their sockets and distribute them as needed. Consequently, most of the puzzles require a mix of logic and spatial awareness. Which orbs need to be moved? When and where do they need to be moved? How is the layout of the level going to allow for that?
These questions become more complicated with the addition of different coloured orbs which only offer power sporadically, or for a small initial burst. Thankfully, the game's simple graphical style means that all the moving parts in any given puzzle are clearly signposted; there's never any ambiguity in terms of what is and isn't relevant. It also allows the mechanics to be grasped intuitively, dispensing the need for heavy handed tutorials.
Each room is like a self-contained sliding block puzzle; all the pieces are readily available; the challenge is in arranging and activating them in the correct way. This can inadvertently create an unsatisfying gameplay loop, though, as once the steps in solving a puzzle become clear, actually carrying them out can feel like busy work. Trudging between rooms, moving energy orbs back and forth, turning levers on and off – it just isn't particularly thrilling.
These issues are exacerbated by some of the infuriating ways the game asks you to suspend your disbelief. Namely, Ava is seemingly incapable of stepping over a foot high ledge. She's also utterly perplexed by the notion of throwing a small box into the air. Numerous puzzles could be solved in mere seconds were she adept in these two simple skills.
The game also struggles with pacing. There are a number of bizarrely straightforward levels near the end of the campaign which disrupt the arc of difficulty, and halter the sense of progression. Despite these problems, the puzzles remain satisfying to solve, and the way some of the late-game mechanics tie into the story is inspired.
The Turing Test is both a thoughtful meditation on the implications of artificial intelligence, and a competent first-person puzzler. Its systems are clever, its graphics make for unambiguous play, and its mechanical focus on logic is satisfying. Structural and pacing issues are certainly present, but they aren't egregious enough to meaningfully detract from the experience.