I’m torn on Magrunner. On the one hand, I’m a huge Portal fan and Frogware’s puzzler certainly taps into that series rather well. But on the other, this isn’t a typical 1st person puzzle solver either. In fact, it channels a more old-school action shooter at times than what I was expecting. In truth, it’s like if Valve decided to finally combine the Portal and Half-Life worlds into one big adventure.
You play Dax, an astronaut who’s been handed the job of learning all about MagTech, a new technology that involves altering the polarity of magnets to move platforms and trigger objects and actions. You get thrown into a number of test chambers, shifting magnets with two different coloured energy pulses (red and green) from your chosen gun to change the magnetic pulse from positive to negative in order to gain the desired, puzzle solving result. Seems very Portal from the outset, doesn’t it?
To be fair, the concept isn’t original by modern standards, especially since the release of Quantum Conundrum to go along with Portal‘s continued success. It plays a positive and negative result here (pun intended), in that if you’ve played either of those games before than you’ll fit in rather well here as you solve these early puzzles with ease, which means that uneasy sense of familiarity may grate you if you were hoping for something new.
But stick with it. Why? Because not too long into the experience, things start to go pear shaped within the test chambers.
Suddenly, you’re faced with an enemy straight out of an episode of the Twilight Zone, or (as many other journalists have mentioned) a H.P. Lovecraft story. This is where my Half-Life reference makes sense, since you’re now not only trying to solve puzzles to carry on, but you’re also trying to stay well clear of some deadly, deformed creatures straight from the pits of hell itself.
It’s an intriguing combination of genres and though it’s rough around the edges, it has its intelligent moments. Knowing you have to complete your puzzle as quickly as possible just to avoid a confrontation with whatever lurks in the dark certainly puts a spin on things, that’s for sure. Frogware have done a good job transferring what Portal taught us into something just different enough to stand on its own accord, without feeling like a rip-off as many iOS and PC games tend to become once a particular game reaches critical acclaim or cult status.
It does feel like a missed opportunity though. Puzzle design is a little inconsistent and frustrating later on, whilst the scares are a mixed bag (when they work, they work well, just not often enough). If anything, it should have been darker, perhaps with a tighter emphasis on story than puzzle solving or references to what’s out there. The presentation is solid, though again that sense of familiarity in early stages may bore some players. Once the weirdness kicks in, the bright and colourful test chambers give way to dank, dark corridors and plenty of foreboding shadows, not unlike the overgrown Portal 2 areas to a degree, in order to mix things up just enough to keep it fresh.
Frogware must be commended for trying to be original whilst the comparisons follow it around. Unfortunately there are a number of issues that hold it back and it could have been more, but in the end Magrunner: Dark Pulse is worthy of a few hours of your time.