Contrary to what anyone who knows me may think, I actually really liked the Portal series. The puzzle solving and interesting concepts had me hooked throughout the experience. Sure, the jokes and ending song have been run into the ground, but that has never stopped it from being a great game. I mention all of this because Magrunner: Dark Pulse takes a ton of elements from Portal and incorporates them into its own story and game play mechanics. Surprisingly, Frogwares succeeds in making an interesting game, in both puzzles and in story.
Players take on the role of Dax. He is a young genius who has entered a highly popular, televised competition where the winner will be trained for space exploration. There are seven contestants, all completing trials in the form of platforming puzzles, using a special device that can change the magnetism of certain objects. Well, everything is not what it seems once the competition turns deadly when a strange monster appears and starts killing contestants. Traveling deeper into the facility, Dax realizes that the company MagTech that is running the contest is dealing with some very dangerous, and supernatural things.
Magrunner takes place in first-person with the player controlling the two types of magnetism with the left and right mouse clicks (or triggers with the gamepad). Players will use these magnetisms to manipulate the environment, move objects and create platforms and other ways to escape the room. Objects and platforms with the same magnetism attract while opposites push each other away. This mechanic takes a little getting used to, but after a decent tutorial, I was able to grasp the concept well. To begin with, it is the standard trials. Find a way to the exit. After things go awry, the game play changes up a little, but with the same main theme involved. Many of the puzzles were pretty good brain teasers that had me scratching my head multiple times, but like Portal, when I did figure out what I needed to do, I felt rewarded. Those “ah-ha” moments always kept me coming back.
If players are confused on what is magnetized and how far it reaches, there is a simple button that will allow Dax to see the fields for quick reference. It helped me out so much; I pretty much left it on the entire game. Magnetizing a box and standing on it while making the platform it is sitting on the opposite magnetic field will result in Dax and the box rocketing to another platform. Magnetizing a plate on the wall with a certain field and then jumping on a floating platform and making it the same field will have the platform move towards the wall plate. It’s all simple concepts that are implemented in very complex ways. It is a rather clever game.
The story is told through radio chatter and, like Portal, things players will discover on their trek through the unknown. The big difference here is while Portal had a comical feel to it, Magrunner does not. It has a very dark overtone that kept me intrigued even when I was stumped on a puzzle. It really is very well done.
The visuals are decent, but not jaw dropping by any means. The voice acting is well done, and the overall presentation is impressive, especially for a game I had never heard of before reviewing it. I was pleasantly surprised by the entire thing. The story twists and how they changed up the overall tone of really took me by surprise.
While the game stumped me on multiple occasions, and the story takes a while to ramp up, I still really enjoyed my time with Magrunner. It took a familiar formula, gave it its own spin, and turned it into a rather enjoyable experience. Fans of both Portal and other puzzle games should really take a look. For $20, players will get a good seven to eight hour game that tells a decent story and offers up some pretty challenging game play puzzles.
Review copy of game provided by publisher.