GAME NAME: Magrunner: Dark Pulse
PUBLISHER(S): Focus Home Interactive
PLATFORM(S): PC, Xbox 360, PS3
GENRE(S): First Person Puzzler
RELEASE DATE(S): June 20th 2013
Sherlock Holmes developer Frogwares take a break from the great detective with a deliberate change of pace and at first glance, Magrunner: Dark Pulse seems to be attempting to ride on the coattails of Valve’s Portal franchise, it’s a first person puzzler after all. However, upon closer examination I’ve found it has plenty about it that’s unique, not least of which are some surprising horror elements. Yep, you read that right! So, let’s dive in!
Players take control of Dax Ward, a poor nobody who’s entered a training program to become a Magrunner. Magrunners are astronauts of a sort, the rock stars of their time so Dax and six others are chasing a heady prize. Inevitably, after a while learning how magnets, your robotic dog and the puzzles work in a solid and comprehensive tutorial, things go awry and Dax finds himself thrust into an adventure, trying to prevent the rise of Cthulhu, an ancient evil of lore. Story-wise it’s fairly by the numbers for a Cthulhu title, and while he’s no GLaDOS, Cthulhu serves just fine as the dark presence that must be overcome.
The puzzles start out easy enough, with a colour system in place, not unlike Portal. Two red or green objects will attract one another, while one red and one green will repel. This can be used for everything from manipulating objects to helping Dax himself navigate an area, using repel to spring to otherwise unreachable heights for example. However, as you would expect, the further in you get, the more complex the puzzles become, and after a few hours you’ll find yourself having to combine multiple concepts to ensure your progress. I’m not keen to give specific examples, as the puzzles are so much of the gameplay here, and it’s so much more satisfying when you solve them yourself. Or you can look up a guide on Youtube. I didn’t. Honest.
The sudden jump from magnetic puzzler to magnetic puzzler with monsters from a Lovecraftian nightmare can be a little jarring, but the artwork on show is fantastic, seamlessly blending a plastic futuristic aesthetic that feels ripped straight from an 80’s Saturday morning cartoon show with the aforementioned Lovecraft horrorscape. After an hour or so the story also picks up, pulling engaged players in deeper, and that’s a good thing because the gameplay unfortunately just never quite hits the peaks that the presentation does. A smattering of minor bugs and faults mean the art of solving the puzzles can be, at times, downright impossible. Some of the puzzles, especially in the latter stages, are already difficult enough without manipulable objects acting like the laws of physics don’t apply to them and flying off in random directions for no reason at all. On two separate occasions I found myself completely stuck within a puzzle as the cube I needed to push to the other side of the room just didn’t fancy behaving itself. Thankfully a swift restart of the game seemed to fix any problems. The fact I wasted twenty minutes before I figured out the puzzle was broken is neither here nor there!
As I mentioned earlier, presentation is easily Magrunner’s highest point. A great look, coupled with atmospheric lighting, some creepy sounds and solid voice acting combine to transport players into a gorgeous combination of the future and the stuff of nightmares. While I’ve heard others grumble about lengthy loading times, I had no such problems, although admittedly the game was installed to an SSD. Clocking in at around eight hours, not including any time spent figuring out those latter puzzles, Magrunner offers good value, although as always with puzzle games replay value is diminished somewhat once you know how to beat the puzzles.
Puzzle fans looking for more Portal could do worse than spending their hard earned on Magrunner. While it lacks the polished gameplay of the Portal games, it’s a solidly put together game that looks great and will certainly ensure your brain gets a workout. While the problems with the physics frustrated at times, they never came close to preventing me playing to completion, and I found it an enjoyable way to spend a weekend. Perfect summer gaming fare.