by Matt Porter
reviewed on PC
As one of the twentieth century’s most celebrated horror writers, the influences of H.P. Lovecraft stretch far across all forms of media. His Cthulhu mythos in particular is used in many games, or has at least some part in influencing the themes. Developer Frogwares has explored the author’s work before in Sherlock Holmes: The Awakened. The company’s sister studio, 3 AM Games has created something completely different with Magrunner: Dark Pulse though. It is an action puzzle game which boasts a unique style, blending futuristic cyberpunk with Lovecraftian horror.
Magrunner’s mythology is inspired by Lovecraft, but outside influences do not stop there. The gameplay, and to a lesser extent the visual style, are clearly taking cues from Valve’s Portal games. Right from the get go, you are granted with a strange gun with two firing modes to help you solve puzzles. These puzzles take place in test chambers where your goal is to reach the exit using the cubes provided. You even travel between test chambers using an elevator. However, rather than firing portals, you will be shooting out bursts of magnetism.
You play as Dax, one of seven young Magrunners specially selected to participate in a space training program set up by the Magtech Corporation, a very exciting opportunity indeed. Eager to impress, Dax is equipped with the Magtech Glove, acting as part communicator, part puzzle solving aid. Your progress is being televised, and in the early part of the game you are constantly in contact with your trainer, a reporter and various other characters via hologram. Early puzzle rooms introduce you to the mechanics, but it is not long before things take a bad turn. The giant testing facility begins to lose power and falls apart around you, and upon entering one particular chamber, you are greeted with the gruesome sight of someone being eaten alive by some sort of demonic creature. From there you must do what you can to escape the facility, trekking through broken down test chambers and back corridors. Things go from bad to worse when you appear to be transported out in the depths of space and faced with Cthulhu himself.
It took me a long time to get there though. I have spent many hours playing Magrunner, because it is one of the hardest games I’ve played in recent years. More than a few of those hours were spent frustrated rather than satisfied. You can magnetise objects throughout each puzzle with your Magtech Glove. Right click and left click (or triggers on a gamepad) fire opposite polarising beams. The basic mechanic is very simple. Something with a green magnetic field will attract other things with a green magnetic, while repelling objects with a red magnetic field (going against everything I learned in Physics about opposites attracting). For example, you could place two boxes on top of each other, give them opposite spherical magnetic fields and the top one would fire up into the air. Or you can magnetise a specific point, allowing you to ride a platform backwards and forwards along the cylindrical field.
Magrunner has a fiendishly simple concept. When put into practice with you having to manipulate multiple magnetic fields at the same time to manoeuvre boxes, or yourself, around the room, it becomes devilishly difficult. When you consider that magnetic fields can go through walls, and most puzzles take place across several sprawling rooms, it can occasionally boggle the mind.
Clever puzzle mechanics. An intriguing storyline, blending cyberpunk with Lovecraftian horror.
Puzzles vary wildly between easy and super complex.