by Preston Dozsa
previewed on PC
Life as a Guinea Pig
Portal with a magnet gun. That is not a bad idea. In fact, it is a really fun idea. And after spending some time playing a demo of Magnetic: Cage Closed, I was entertained, engaged and most importantly walked away wanting more.
Developed by the Swedish Guru Games, Magnetic is a first person puzzle game set in a remote prison in Alaska during the height of the Cold War. The Americans have just obtained a secret Soviet magnet gun that uses magnetic forces to push and repel objects. You play as ‘Bird’ (as the development team has nicknamed her), a prisoner who is forced to experiment with the gun while simultaneously trying to find an escape route from certain death.
Now the magnet gun only has two main functions: push and pull. At the beginning of the demo, which I was guided through by Guru Games CEO Daniel Ström, the rooms and puzzles are simple enough: pick up a metal block, place or throw it at a switch, repeat until door to next room unlocks. Pretty quickly, however, more and more elements are put into play that you need to manage at the same time. A gap that is too large to jump normally necessitates the use of the gun’s pull function so that you can zip across the wide gap, while pushing on a metal floor will allow you to jump higher into the air.
There are also multiple levels or settings on the magnet gun to increase or decrease its power. Setting the gun to the lowest setting allows for minor adjustments, such as when you’re walking on an edge or when placing a metal block on a switch. But changing the setting to full power allows one to nearly fly across the room, rip metal staircases out of walls and move most of the room with one click. This resulted in many accidents where I nearly finished a puzzle only to be brought down by my refusal to change the setting. Because – let’s be honest for a moment – if you had a magnet gun, wouldn’t you want to operate it at full power?
Probably not actually, considering you’d likely die from the forces being exerted.
Sense of Accomplishment
I digress. Magnetic was very entertaining in the 40 minute demo I played, which took multiple levels across the entire game and truncated it to show off the wide range of levels found within the game. As I have written time and time again, one of the best qualities that a good puzzle game is its ability to make you feel accomplished once you’ve completed a level. And Magnetic is challenging enough that, while it does have its moments of frustration, it is also easy to pick up and learn from over the course of the game.
While I earlier compared this game to Portal in terms of aesthetic it is anything but. While Portal had pristine white walls with flashes of blue and orange, Magnetic is decisively gritty and metallic. The walls have a greenish-grey sheen to them that makes you feel like you’re in a dark, ominous facility, and the thematic colours of green and red help set the tone for how overpowering the prison actually is. While the game is set during the Cold War, there were no clues that gave me an idea as to what decade or time within the war the game takes place in. But when I looked around for the first time, I thought to myself that if the look of the game did not scream Cold War, I didn’t know what did.
Defining the Character
As for the story, there are three characters who talk to you and guide you through the prison’s trials. The first is the prison psychologist, who is interested in what makes you tick and how your work with the magnetic gun defines you as a person. Then there is the warden of the prison, who is marginally happy with your completion of the puzzles but who honestly couldn’t care whether you lived or died. Finally, there is an unnamed and unheard third character, whose exact role is unknown to me yet but who is regularly blamed by the Warden for everything that’s wrong with the prison. Listening to them makes me want to figure out what the hell is going on, as each of them have different motivations as to what they want out of you and the experiment. It’s compelling, and rather than detract from the puzzle solving it makes me want to complete the puzzles so I can hear the next exchange of dialogue.
The last thing that stroked my curiosity in the game is the inclusion of choice events. These events are usually binary, but can feature multiple options and will affect the storyline as you progress. As Ström explained to me, their focus wasn’t on creating a good or a bad option to choose from, but to create choices that let the player decide how they wanted to define ‘Bird’. For example, the first choice I came across was whether or not to push a button in the center of a room. Pushing it to me signalled that I was a follower who did things without question, while not pushing made me think that I lacked curiosity or was rebellious. It’s an interesting addition to a puzzle game, but one that I can only see as providing a unique framework with which to separate it from similar games.
Magnetic: Case Closed was one of the best surprises I uncovered at PAX South. It plays well, looks great and has me intrigued as to what the full game will offer. With a released date for March, I can only hope that the full game will be as engaging as the demo.