Magnetic energy seems like a compelling premise for any first-person puzzle platformer to be built around. After all, a magnet combined with some iron fillings was about as playful as school ever got. Imagine that kind of power a thousand-fold. Magnetic: Cage Closed begins with your incarceration. A prisoner on Death row, you are sent to an experimental underground facility and given the “opportunity” to win back your freedom.
Magnetic: Cage Closed isn’t just like the game Portal, it is also like the cult-classic film Cube. The underground facility is a megalithic labyrinth of trial rooms with transit containers moving between sections. In each room there’s a puzzle, with fire, gas and spiked pits as encouragement to get things right. The rooms are all confined and often claustrophobic deathtraps. On completion of each trial you will unlock a circular hole in the wall that you can crawl through to the next room.
The trials and puzzles themselves are built around a powerful magnet weapon. Unlike Half-Life’s gravity gun, this weapon not only has the power to push away or drag metal objects towards you, but also control the charged currents around you in order to move about. With a platform a great distance ahead and magnetic conductors attached to the wall, you can use the weapon to pull yourself towards it, allowing you to make a leap that would otherwise be impossible. Likewise, you can push yourself away from these imbedded conductors, flinging yourself backwards across the entirety of a room.
Most of the trials are simple. The Warden, a vindictive character whose voice leads you through the trials, is often condescending towards your activities. “Boxes and buttons, how complex can that be?” he chides. He is right and the developers obviously know this; most of the puzzles involve finding boxes and placing them on big red buttons, with the occasional lever-pushing on the side. The solutions and process to each puzzle is coldly mechanical – the game never reaches the cerebral heights of Portal.
Cage Closed isn’t difficult, but the straight-forward puzzles create a certain flow. The most enjoyable moments were ones that reminded me of the esteemed physicist Michio Kaku’s writing on magnetic levitation. He imagines that in a world filled with superconductors, magnets could allow us to fly. Cage Closed does exactly that. Some rooms are so dense with conductors that you can levitate from one end of the room to the next – I only wish there was more of this, and less crate moving.
Every so often, after a good stretch of puzzling, you are given a choice. The Warden’s voice which lends a sadistic edge to the shifting metallic rat-maze disappears and a psychologist takes his place. These odd sections reinforce the idea that your behaviour is being closely analysed and your path carefully calibrated. Like the Cube, this is all a big game – although you are never sure why. Narratively, these psychology sections add very little, but they kind of make sense as part of the overall tone. Later in the game there is an inevitable escape segment where you see behind the curtains and venture outside of the carefully manufactured trial rooms.
Some of Magnetic: Cage Closed’s themes are interesting, but they are tackled more confidently and effectively both in and out of the medium. There isn’t enough made of the creaking industrial prison as megastructure, and the muddled plot is confounded by multiple endings. There is a good chance that due to the way you answered the psychologist’s questions, your journey will reach a short and unsatisfactory end. That your saved game is then overwritten as “Complete” is even more frustrating. The multiple-choice ending structure, as in Stanley Parable, is just another interesting idea that doesn’t work well in practice.
An interesting premise and some neat ideas and themes, puzzles are mechanically solid, magnetic levitation is fun.
Puzzles involve mainly crate pushing and button pressing, narrative isn’t very well thought out, a good chance the game will end prematurely.