by Matt Porter
reviewed on PC
In Portal, you know that whatever goes into one portal, comes out of the other portal. Here however, you are faced with often imprecise magnetic fields. Thankfully you can press a button to show you the field surrounding each object, but this does not help predict what will happen when you add another element to the mix, and often looks messy.
When you make a game in such a similar style to Portal, you are always going to draw direct comparisons. In Portal, if you don’t make a jump then you know you are doing something wrong. In Magrunner I was never sure whether I was doing something wrong or the controls were letting me down. A few times I was having to time jumps to get between platforms moving through different planes of motion, and it was just frustrating when I didn’t make it. Other times I would have to change the magnetism of a specific object while on a moving platform, so accuracy is paramount. When I was faced with a huge level, usually with the exit out of sight completely, I felt daunted and unmotivated rather than excited to seek out the solution. The puzzles and their answers are undoubtedly clever, but at times they were just too complex. This is a game where I wouldn’t have been ashamed to look up a guide for in places, but since none were available to me, I had to struggle through.
Ups and downs
I was having the most fun in the game’s simpler puzzles. You might accuse me of wanting the game to be too easy, but there is a difference between challenging and obtuse, and I fear the majority of Magrunner borders on the obtuse. And this is coming from someone who played and thoroughly enjoyed Antichamber earlier this year. New mechanics are introduced slowly, such as the ability to make a point of magnetism pretty much anywhere you like in the level. This broadens the opportunity for solving puzzles massively, but never makes them trivial. You will also have to avoid deadly gun turrets, and even deadlier creatures which stalk you in later levels. Explosive crates can be fired to destroy them, but you will have to generate enough force to make them blow up, and only if you can find one.
Presentationally, Magrunner is pretty good for a cheaper indie title. The environments look fine, if a little bland in places, but it makes good use of the cyberpunk aesthetic, particularly on the futuristic Magtech Glove. Blending this with the creepy Lovecraftian Mythos is odd, and while it is going for a scary feel with some decent sound effects like demonic whisperings and the like, I never felt in much danger. I do appreciate the unique mix of styles attempted by the developers though. All of the story is told through voice acting, which is nicer than having to trawl through a bunch of text, and for the most part the voicework is good. The narrative itself is pretty interesting, and was my main reason for wanting to continue through the game.
Too many frustrations
I liked the fact that this type of puzzle mechanic, along with the mixture of styles has never been done before. With a little more polish, and a difficulty curve that didn’t bounce around to all ends of the spectrum, Magrunner: Dark Pulse could have been a great game. As it is, there are too many frustrations, and I didn’t feel compelled to keep playing on the merit of the puzzles alone. You will get a lot of hours out of it for your money though, along with an engaging storyline.
Clever puzzle mechanics. An intriguing storyline, blending cyberpunk with Lovecraftian horror.
Puzzles vary wildly between easy and super complex.