Magrunner: Dark Pulse Review
Graphics - 7
Gameplay - 9
Value - 8
Story - 7
Sound - 8
What it lacks in story, Magrunner makes up for in gameplay, if you're up for a challenge, this may be for you.
Developed by Frogwares Game Developmental Studios and published by Focus Home Interactive, Magrunner: Dark Pulse is an action-puzzle game in which technology confronts Cthulhu.
It is no surprise Magrunner: Dark Pulse takes inspiration from Portal. In fact, the first hour of the game screams Portal so loudly that you might wonder if there will be cake at the end of the game. From the way elevators take you to different levels, haunting messages scrawled all over the walls and the sci-fi nonlethal weapon which only has two functions, Magrunner is not ashamed of letting you know that they took a page from Portal. This is not a bad thing.
You play as Dax Ward, a candidate in the Gruckezber Corporation’s Magtech deep space exploration training program. To help him with overcoming the challenges set before, Dax has his own home-made Magtech glove. Like the Portal gun, the glove’s two function are to charge objects with magnetic polarity. The polarity is shown with the use of colors. However, unlike real life, objects with the same color attract each other while objects with different colors repel. While the idea behind this may seem flimsy and overly simplistic, the puzzles and gameplay are anything but.
The puzzles and levels that are set before you are wonderful. They require players to think carefully about the frequently varied mechanics that pop-up throughout the entire game. Puzzles early in the game are simple and basic, requiring you to reach high places with the use of repelling polarities or to use magnetic force to overcome larger distances. As you progress through the game, puzzles become increasingly complicated and long. But because the mechanics of the game are consistent and fair you are never left feeling frustrated or cheated by the game’s difficulty.
The lighting effects in Magrunner are also very well done. Such things are often overlooked in most games but in Magrunner, it is absolutely crucial that Frogwares to have gotten it right. In the game, players have the option of seeing the various objects magnetic field with the simple press of a button. This will allow players to see how far the reach of an object’s magnetic field is and how it will affect the gameplay. Because this sort of information is readily available to players and is combined with consistent game mechanics, the puzzles become very enjoyable.
Another thing that Magrunner does well is it’s music. While simple, the music is able to instill a sense of dread and fear in the player as the plot thickens. I often find myself tensing up while solving a puzzle because the music always seems to imply that a jump scare is right around the corner. This also creates a sense of urgency when it comes to solving the puzzle as you just want to get out of the place as soon as possible.
Magrunner also features the same white sterile environments that you have come to know in Portal. However, as the story takes a dark twist, so too does the environment change to reflect the desperate state that Dax is in. In contrast to the bright white environment in the first hour of the game, subsequent portions are dark, littered with debris, partially destroyed and more often than not coupled with gigantic petrified monsters protruding from the walls.
That being said, Magrunner is not without flaws. The game’s story is described as “When technology meets Cthulhu!” and yes, it is as ludicrous as it sounds, but not in a good way. The story picks up about an hour into the game where you discover that instead of a space training program, you are actually part of a larger plot to be sacrificed to summon Cthulhu. The problem with this is that the story just isn’t very good. It takes itself way too seriously and interactions with other characters are down to the occasional conversation at either the beginning or the end of a level.
There are also unnecessary story elements in the game that were just thrown in for the sake of having one. There is actually a fish monster which they introduce as the creature that is going around killing the other Magrunners. But because you don’t have the ability to defend yourself, it only appears in cutscenes as a lousy attempt to build tension. So having such a story element feels very contrived when all I want to do is to get to another level but the game is force-feeding me a poorly thought out story.
Another issue with the game is that graphically, it does look “old”. While the graphics of a game like Magrunner do not make or break it’s puzzle gameplay, certain textures can look a bit dreary and boring. It just does not feel like it is something that you would see from a futuristic sci-fi story. Take Dax’s Magtech glove, although he is acclaimed to be a genius, he is spotting a Magtech glove which is constantly arcing electricity. At least it does explain why you are instantly killed the moment you land in water.
Those issues aside, Frogwares Game has managed to make an absolutely wonderful game. With its magnetic gameplay and brilliant level design, it is well worth the money and time if you can look past the awful story. Magrunner: Dark Pulse is available on Steam for $19.99. The game will also be released for the Xbox 360 and the PlayStation 3 in September.
A copy of this game was provided for review purposes.