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Magrunner: Dark Pulse (PlayStation 3) artwork

Magrunner: Dark Pulse (PlayStation 3) review


"Magrunner looked like an interesting game to me, but I was shocked at how good its puzzle design is. It shocks me how many games there are out there with these really, really well thought out puzzles. They must take hours and hours to design, and my hat is off to the people whose minds can bring them to life. Even more surprising is that Magrunner pulls off an interesting story and themes, great visual design, and one of the best fearful voice acting performances I've ever heard."


Magrunner: Dark Pulse is very clearly a Portal-esque experience. I would actually call it a Quantum Conundrum-esque experience, as I have played that game but not Portal. So maybe we should call it a Kim Swift-esque game. When you first see this game, you might even think it is a blatant rip off. You walked around a test facility in the first person solving puzzles by manipulating companion cubes with a weird looking device, and the story hints that things might not be what they seem. But calling Magrunner a Swift-like or a ripoff is not an insult in this case, as it also copies her games' genius tier level and puzzle design, which is no mean feat. It also somehow manages to pull off its story, which is quite surprising based on my expectations going in.

In Magrunner, you play as a young man named Dax who, along with 6 others, has qualified for a competition to become astronaut workers. The selected candidate who goes up to space will be working heavily with a new type of magnetic technology, so the competition focuses on the use of the technology to solve problems.

The Mag-Tech technology, or whatever it is called, is a new system for generating controllable magnetic fields. Dax's device can charge objects in two different polarities, red and green. Objects of the same polarity attract, and objects with differing polarities repel (obviously the developers do not understand how real magnets work, but their system is still intuitive). So you end up running around the test facility trying to get from point A to point B by manipulating the objects around you. There are platforms that you can move by shooting with green (or red) polarity and then shooting a stationary projector with green (or red) as well. Or if you shoot the projector with red (or green), the platform will move in the other direction. You can reach higher areas by stacking boxes, then charging them with opposite polarities and riding the top box up. Often you need to get some boxes to hard to reach places so that you can use that stacking maneuver, but getting the boxes where they need to go can require outside the box thinking. You might need to charge them up with the same polarity as a platform and then send the platform to go pick them up. Or you may need to take them along for the ride as you switch polarities on a platform back and forth to push and pull it where it needs to go based on the objects around it. Just be careful, you will very often cause magnetic interactions you did not intend, which might send your box flying across the room. You are usually trying to get two objects to interact, but always have to keep in mind how other objects around you will be affected by what you do. These examples are just the tip of the iceberg of what you will be doing, and the joy of discovering it and figuring out the masterful puzzles is the game's main draw. And it's not a short game either; there is a lot of great content to be explored, and you'll be glad that it keeps on coming instead of ending abruptly after a few hours like some games in this same design space do.

The game uses standard FPS controls, right stick controlling movement and left the direction you look. L2 fires one polarity and R2 fires the other. Both R1 and L1 zoom you in when they are held down, and if there are any objects that can be magnetized, the reticle will jump to them when you zoom, which makes precision aiming at a distance easier. X is jump, and square is pick up/drop a box. These are simple controls that work really well to manipulate puzzles that need specific solutions while also maintaining a very physics based feel.

Things are not what they seem in the test facility though, and it's best not to say too much beyond that as the game takes some really big, interesting turns. It's probably best if you don't know exactly where the game's story is heading, but if you look at the title art assets or any promotional material for the game, you'll know that it involves some kind of Cthulu-type stuff. And without saying too much, I can confirm that Cthulu fans should take note of this game, as it has some really compelling content in that area.

As things take a turn for the worse in the test facility, something amazing happens. Namely, the voice actor that plays Dax puts in a really great performance as a guy who is suddenly becoming very scared. He's so good at it that it made me scared, which is something that even most dedicated horror games can't usually pull off. The other voice actors are not bad either. I was not at all expecting the story to be good, and I especially was not expecting any kind of good or even mediocre voice acting, so I was pleasantly shocked to find how much the good acting and interesting story themes added to Magrunner.

About mid-way through the game you get a new magnetic tool to play with that really changes how you can interact with the environment. I won't give too many details as it is cool to discover and play with, but I'll say that it allows you to more freely manipulate magnetic devices. Puzzles that use this feature really feel like you are breaking the game or finding solutions that you weren't supposed to, which makes you feel like a genius who just had a breakthrough after experimenting a big with trying to find a solution (although the solutions you find are probably the intended ones). If that's not a sign of good puzzle design, I don't know what is.

This is an Unreal Engine game, and it's a good looking one. There is some texture pop, but not as bad as many Unreal games, even some high budget ones. The art and graphic design are great, whether you are in the ultra-sleek test facility or looking at the game's more otherworldly assets. A few design elements that seem a little goofy at first actually end up having some interesting meaning and fall into to place in the overall scheme of things.

Magrunner looked like an interesting game to me, but I was shocked at how good its puzzle design is. It shocks me how many games there are out there with these really, really well thought out puzzles. They must take hours and hours to design, and my hat is off to the people whose minds can bring them to life. Even more surprising is that Magrunner pulls off an interesting story and themes, great visual design, and one of the best fearful voice acting performances I've ever heard. The game leverages its art assets and the reactions of its main character to suck the player into the on-screen horror like few games can. Magrunner is floating in a sea of other games that are mediocre versions of other games. But it actually stands as a contemporary of the classics it takes its basic ideas from. It's a 4 out of 5.

4/5

Robotic_Attack's avatar
Community review by Robotic_Attack (June 13, 2015)

Robotic Attack reviews every game he plays... almost.

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