One of the major benefits of being a strong independent writer who don’t need no paycheck, is that I ultimately decide what I spend my time playing, I’m never forced to play through a bad game and then forced to write about it. Life is too short for bad video games (which is why I try to give you guys my opinion on what to play and what to avoid), which brings me to Magrunner: Dark Pulse.
So I played maybe a little under 2 hours of ‘Focus Home interactive’s Magrunner and was left so underwhelmed and unentertained, that as soon as an excuse came to stop playing the game, I took it, and only looked back for a brief moment to wonder if there was any way I could experience stuff further along in the game so that I could hate on that stuff too.
Magrunner at the start plays like a bad version of Portal, you are a Magrunner™© selected as a contestant for some sort of show where you train and do test chambers, with the winning getting to go to the moon (or something like that), you go through brightly coloured test chambers, solve puzzles, then get dumped back into an elevator while they throw some story dialogue at you.
After about an hour or so however, the game flips the script (probably for the worse too), you walk into a test chamber to see some sort of fish creature eating a dude, and from this point on the game starts to become very very confused as to what sort of game it is, the chambers begin to devolve and you eventually end up in the sort of environment I’m pretty sure I already explored once in Doom 3. The game then attempts to become some sort of atmospheric horror puzzle game (i think?), with scary ambient sounds and progressively darker and more moody environments. From what I was able to understand from the story, cthulu was involved somehow. My personal journey with the game ended with what felt like a 10 minute long platform ride in a copy-pasted sewer maze, though from what I hear and have seen, later on in the game you get to experience enemy monsters, and apparently journey to another planet.
The puzzle game aspect of Magrunner comes in the form of Magnetism, you are provided a glove which is able to generate and control magnetic fields on objects, the puzzles themselves in similar portal fashion may involve needing to crack a lightning bubble to open a door, or simply reach the exit. Magnetic poles can either attract or repel each other, which opens up some pretty interesting scenarios, especially once you factor in magnetic power as well (ie. 4 cubes charged one colour is much stronger than 1 charged cube). Whilst the game was focused on purely being a puzzle game, my experience with the game was fairly mixed, whilst the mechanics aren’t as satisfying as those in similar chamber puzzle games (Portal / Quantum conundrum), completing certain puzzles was still fairly satisfying. After the game starts to add in the horror elements and cthulu and stuff though, I felt the game became less entertaining, I couldn’t really pinpoint the exact reason why, but perhaps the pace of the game slows down a little in favour of more story elements (or maybe I just disliked the environments).
The graphics in Magrunner are very nice, clean and crisp in the chamber levels, and atmospheric in the later levels, reflections and lighting are used very well in both, and I really loved the colour palette in the chamber levels (reminiscent of the style used in Mirrors Edge), the horror levels as I mentioned before, do just kind of look like something pulled from Doom 3 or Quake 4 and were less impressive, though detail and atmosphere were certainly present.
Music and Sound felt minimal, if there was any music or ambient noises, im certainly not able to remember any – make of that, what you will. I do remember some sort of scaryish ambience in the horror levels, which did the job of making it spooky I guess.
Magrunner has a fair few design problems, some of which are fixable (and should have been noted at playtesting phase), and others which are maybe just taste based.
One of the annoyances you’ll run into early is the unskippable elevator, starting the game dumps you into the elevator, where some lengthy dialogue plays, if you are anything like me, you’ll be bored long before the conversation has finished. When you get released into a test chamber you may think to yourself “wow, this game might actually be kind of cool after all” , however before you know it, the level is over, and you are back to that fucking elevator for some more dialogue. This happens approximately way too many times and really slows the game down and hinders the player at the most important phase of the game where the mechanics are new and the player just wants to… y’know… play the fucking game.
Another annoyance is the lack of any form of sprint ,inability to throw items, and lack of being able to jump whilst you are holding an item. Perhaps I’ve just been spoilt by portal and quantum conundrum, but when a fair portion of the game revolves around moving around these huge areas to fetch boxes for multiple purposes, its nice to be able to actually move around the level, the other two things I mentioned are probably the same thing at heart – “okay i need to get this box onto that ledge”, cant throw boxes, cant jump with boxes, so you have to walk up to the edge of the ledge and kind of hook the box over it, maybe there are reasons for this stuff (no sprinting for when the enemies are introduced, no throwing because… devs hate fun?… I dunno.).
Oh. and I can’t forget about the section which ended up convincing me to stop playing, a terrifyingly long platform ride above instant-death water in a maze of sewers where nothing happens? and boxes and switches are in different areas and travelling between them takes ages? Are you serious? Was this level not included for the playtesters? and if it was, were they sedated? who thought this was a good idea, seriously.
Another massive underlying problem (and im not even going to mention the whole horror/cthulu thing because that should speak for itself) is that the magnetism system, whilst cool, isn’t really implemented that well. I feel like the actual idea itself of changing polarity of magnetised items is sweet, and seeing items slowly gravitate towards each other, or fly upwards as they are repelled by each other, is very awesome. But the majority of the game mechanics seem to be based upon using gravitational fields to pull/push platforms on rails, and it’s just kind of frustrating to see it used in such a way when there are so many other cool things that could be done. This is sort of what I meant when I earlier said that ‘completing certain puzzles was …satisfying’, a few of the puzzles use the magnetism idea in really interesting ways, using moving platforms to repel each other to get them into position to attract boxes which are out of reach, using a moving platform to pull a box on the other side of a wall so that you can retrieve it… stuff like that felt really satisfying.
Magrunner, even with its random cthulu invasion, just had too many irritants to keep me playing through to the end. The magnetism based puzzling was interesting, and I’m 100% sure that there is a good game just waiting to be made with those exact mechanics, it’s just not this one.
Approximate Game Length : Estimated 4-6 hours?
Actual Worth / Steam Price: £4/ £15 = 0.266
Should you play it : No, but it was an interesting (though not particularly enjoyable) experience.