Everyone loves Portal for it’s fun combination of puzzles, cake and a computer that’s hell-bent on taking over the world. Portal popularised the first-person puzzle genre and Valve made sure they made a damn good job of it. Obviously the developers of Magrunner:Dark Pulse decided they’d take the tried and tested formula, add an extra hint of Cthulu and creepyness and change the gameplay mechanic to something a little more possible in this universe. The result is surprisingly good.
Magrunner is set in a Big-Brother style dystopian world where everything seems to revolve around ‘LifeNET’ – which is obviously a poke at what Facebook would be like if it was to take over the world. Your character has been picked as test subject so that the owner of LifeNET (whose name is clearly an anagram of Zuckerberg) can test and show off some new magnetic technology he’s invented. The event that you take part in is supposedly broadcast across the world and to potential investors. Unsurprisingly, the character you play as just happens to be the underdog out of all of the participants; so expect the occasional snide comments from the onlookers of your challenges.
Magrunner also borrows portal’s test chamber layout and even the lifts between them. It worked well for portal and works well for Magrunner too. The puzzles start with 8 or so tutorial chambers which introduce you to the mechanics of the game. I was really impressed at the smooth learning curve the developers have managed to get into these 8 levels; maybe even slightly surpassing the way portal did it. After you complete the tutorial, you’re treated to a pretty gruesome scene and suddenly the pristine test chambers become wrecked by an unknown force, and you’re left to find your own way around them (yep, familiar territory again). The later levels introduce you to the creepier, harder levels which add a slightly different way of doing things. The story is quite slow to develop in Magrunner, and the game changes throughout, so impatient gamers will probably end up missing a fair bit if they aren’t persistent with the game.
Although Magrunner is similar to portal, the main gameplay mechanic is quite unique. Using the gun you are given, you can affect the magnetic fields of objects in levels. There are two different colours of magnetic fields that your gun can fire, but unlike real life, opposites repel and same colour fields attract. It’s quite possible that this was done for visual reasons, and although it doesn’t represent real magnets, it definitely seems to work better once you’ve gotten over the initial confusion. Your gun can interact with the various items in the rooms including boxes, lifts and pads on the floor or walls. Quite often, you’ll find yourself stacking up boxes and using them as a kind of slingshot as the differing magnetic fields repel the box with you on top upwards. Platforms go along their own paths and are affected by other magnetic fields in just the same way as everything else and can even be used as a way of picking up other objects from afar. Just like Portal, there’s going to be a lot of time spent thinking while you work out a possible solution to find the exit, and as with any puzzle; there’s always the nice feeling of satisfaction when you’ve solved it. One thing that is often frustrating with games like this are physics which just don’t seem to play ball some of the time. Thankfully, this isn’t a problem with Magrunner. The magnetic fields and objects always seem to play nicely however much you try to break them. It’s nice to see a game with as finely tuned physics as this. Trust me, it’s something that takes a lot of time!
One thing that’s worth noting is that Frogwares chose to use Unreal Engine 3 to power this game, and it really shows in Magrunner. The graphics are beautiful and fluid and there’s plenty of lighting effects to add to the atmosphere. It especially shows in the later ‘horror’ levels, where some parts will have no problem making you feel very uneasy. If a game like this was made using the (cheaper) indie favourite Unity, the result would likely not be nearly as good. Like a lot of things in Magrunner, it’s clear that extra time has been put into making this game excellent. There’s even voice acting that is quite good for once.
To put it bluntly; Magrunner is portal but with magnets instead of portals. The developers made sure that Magrunner isn’t just a cheap rip off either. When this game was developed there must have been a lot of thought how to make a mechanic that works well with the format and is fun to play. Add to that finely tuned gameplay and a story that’s reasonable, Magrunner is definitely worth the asking price!
Disclaimer:All scores given within our reviews are based on the artist’s personal opinion; this should in no way impede your decision to purchase the game.