Magrunner Dark Pulse Review
Magrunner Dark Pulse is a crowd funded, independently published (personally, I like to call it public publishing), first-person puzzle platforming game brought to you by 3AM Games. 3AM Games is an independent studio founded by members of Frogware Games, the developers who brought us Adventures of Sherlock Holmes.
I’m going to start this review out a little differently than usual. Before you go any farther, know that if you love Portal you will love this game. It’s really that simple.
Ok, now to go a little more in depth with Magrunner. It is a pure puzzle game. There is no other aspect to the game beyond the next puzzle room. It is a game that is begging to be compared to Portal, which is a lofty goal for any game to strive for. The format of the game is laid out quite the same as Portal; you go from test room to test room attempting to manipulate everything in such a way as to both open the door and reach the exit.
The key difference between Portal and Magrunner is the primary puzzle mechanic. While in Portal you were manipulating… portals, Magrunner has you altering the magnetic fields of cubes, platforms, and giant panels. In what might be the only thing I ever retained from my physics classes, magnetic fields of the same polarity attract while fields of opposite polarity repel. It is up to you to manipulate these newly magnetized objects in such a way that you can get to the door. This could mean stacking boxes and causing them to repel so you can launch yourself high into the air, or it could be pulling platforms back and forth to allow yourself to walk to the exit.
Truly, trying to describe these mechanics and their in-level interactions doesn't do them appropriate justice. It can become downright dizzying trying to decipher which magnetic sphere is the one you want to push/pull while trying to avoid breaking all the other pieces to your meticulously placed magnetic obstacles. These mechanics are marvelously unique and work perfectly within the context of this world.
To complement the magnetic field manipulation gameplay, the puzzle design in Magrunner is truly mind bending. I consider myself pretty good at puzzle games, but I still found myself stumped quite often--I should say find since, as of writing, I myself am stuck on a particularly troublesome problem. None of the puzzles are unfair in any way—most have an incredibly simple solution that is just hard to see through all the dizzying colors that represent the current magnetic fields. Each new possibility for manipulation is presented very matter-of-fact like. Quite often, you will have a small puzzle to introduce a new requirement before being tossed into one of the larger rooms. The games does an excellent job of gradually teaching you the skills you will need and never expects too much from the player. Simply taking a break and coming back with a fresh mind was normally enough for me to ferret out a solution, even if sometimes my solutions are less elegant than what I feel the developers intended.
I cannot stress enough how good the puzzles in this game are. A lot of games find themselves in trouble when they try to mix a first person perspective with puzzle platforming, but Magrunner pulls it off beautifully.
The story is where this game might draw a few groans from players. I came into this game knowing absolutely nothing about what awaited me. It starts benign enough; you are Dax, intrepid boy genius hoping to prove his worth through the magrunner training course. Equipped with your magnetic field manipulation gauntlet, it is your task to complete every puzzle quicker than the other magrunners.
The story in this game is told between puzzles through dialogue holograms of various people around the facility. You frequently speak with your mutant uncle, Gamaji, a reporter covering the magrunners who are competing, the man who is funding the entire project, and the scientist who crafted the whole facility.
There is a creepy undertone to the entire opening of the game. Snide remarks from the people Dax is talking to gave me the impression that Dax was invited there to fail, or that this Portal-esque puzzle game was as much Hunger Games in terms of its underlying story. It’s not long, though, before all the walls fall down and Dax trades the clean room puzzle chambers for a dark and gritty under croft as the minions of Cthulhu harass him at every turn.
Yes, you read right. 3AM Games has woven the dark horrors of H.P. Lovecraft into the sci-fi realm. As I mentioned earlier, I knew nothing about this game coming into it, so I was pleasantly shocked when the denizens of R’lyeh (Cthulhu’s prison city in Lovecraft’s original story) began to invade the science facility. As you progress through the stages, petrified terrors are peppered through the levels like some sort of macabre decoration.
The idea and execution of Cthulhu into this realm is definitely intriguing, but it is ultimately mere window dressing, used to frame tension between chambers. The descent of the facility into madness never quite feels pressing as all tension is broken when you enter the next puzzle chamber and spend time racking your brain. It is by no means a negative, though, since it provides context for your later puzzles and is used to flesh out the characters that you never actually get to physically meet.
+ It's Portal... but with magnets - Story feels disconnected from gameplay
+ Well designed puzzles that will keep you interested
+ Seriously, try this game
Magrunner Dark Pulse is a fantastic puzzle game and a unique experience for any not familiar with Lovecraftian horror. This is a must play for fans of puzzle games and it would be enjoyable to all but those who loathe the genre. This game is well worth your time and, at $20, it is well worth the price of admission. I highly recommend this game.