Magrunner: Dark Pulse takes place inside of a testing facility where everything has gone wrong. Armed with a scientific gun which allows you to navigate your way through the various test chambers, you have to escape. That sounds a little familiar doesn't it?
3AM Games are ripping off Portal, which is brave. Only instead of portals, here we have magnets. Now, don't get me wrong, magnets are pretty damn cool, but they're not quite as out there as portals. Which nicely sums up Magrunner versus Portal.
Magrunner even manages to go all a bit Xen near the end
Your 'mag glove' has the ability of changing the magnetic polarity of certain objects, allowing you to pull or repel objects from each other. It starts off relatively simple – get this box across a huge gap – and builds towards the ridiculous, half the objects in the room are too far away for their magnetic fields to interact and you have to pull off some strange manoeuvres to even get things moving, never mind solving. But before you even get to the point of playing with magnets, you have to sit through a lecture about Magrunner: Dark Pulse.
For you see, Portal had that amazing start of Chell waking up and leaving you wondering exactly what is going on as you stumble through various test chamber while the incredibly memorable GlaDOS slowly drip feeds the story to you in a very natural way. Magrunner, on the other hand, rams it down your throat without a single character being anything close to memorable. After sitting through its incredibly long intro, which not only introduces you to your character and ninety percent of his backstory, but to the entire world and all its most important people as well, do you finally get control. Only to be locked in a room for another five minutes as people keep talking to you.
It's like they looked at Portal, saw the puzzle mechanic and thought “We can do that” and ignored every other lesson Valve had to teach them. The really annoying part is a lot of the story could have been told in voice overs as you solved puzzles. Instead you're made to sit through it and as a result I found myself resenting the story far more than I maybe should.
The story isn't even that clever either. It's not exactly difficult to work out who Gruckezber and his all-encompassing social network Lifetech is lampooning, and now he has everybody tied into his Facebook clone he's turned to some new technology involving magnets to send people to outer space. Which is where you come in. You are one of the seven potential Magrunners, and the least likely since you have no corporate funding and grew up as the adopted son of a mutant. Who, of course, ends up saving everyone else. So far so very generic.
One of many characters that ridicule you at the beginning. She's a reporter, I have no idea what her name was though
It also suffers from the fact that the writer doesn't quite keep track of what he's revealed to the audience already. At a few points I've had the main character make a logic jump to further the story that almost seems at odds as to what has been going on. So to make up for all that Magrunner includes Cthulhu.
Yep, rather than you realise just what a dark and twisted state the world has descended into and become an instrument of change, you are attacked by the Old Ones and then run around relatively clueless for the rest of the game trying to escape. Chell's escape from GlaDOS felt brave and defiant in the face of certain death, this feels like you're stumbling around with the most naïve idiot in the entire world. However, the introduction of Cthulhu and his friends does start to get the game moving in a slightly more enjoyable direction, even the puzzles somehow improve with the end of the world looming.
It's a shame that 3AM games also failed to learn from Valve on how to structure puzzles though. Once you're past that ridiculous intro you finally get to move magnets about, but things still drag. The game never properly explains just how the world works, and a lot relies on you realising that you can toggle the ability to see the magnetic fields of each object, a thing only ever explained to you in the random tips that the loading screens throw up.
In fact, one of Magrunner's many problems is its failure to explain anything except its tired story. Remember how Portal had simple signs that gave you a clue as to the way to solve a puzzle, or have you do something relatively easy and then ramp up the situations where that solution is needed? Not here, as everything is left entirely out of your hands. It could be said that Magrunner allows experimentation, but I've sat in a room and experimented and not been any closer to a solution. The game doesn't even make it clear you can ride the companion cube substitutes, I only found out by accident, and that was in one of the very first rooms. There's also the issue that due to how the magnetic fields interact with one another, if you activate the wrong one first you can often screw up the entire room and you won't realise.
“Move that platform, then that one... no... does anyone have any rope?”
Once you get your head around the magnets then it actually starts to work quite well. But then the game realises it needs to mix things up again, so starts introducing new elements such as a magnet you can place yourself, or mag rails that you have to change the polarity of as you travel. Initially these intrigue, but it takes seconds with them to realise that they just make Magrunner extra fiddly, creating even more frustration as you go.
Magrunner: Dark Pulse was always going to bring comparisons to Valve's seminal title. It's brave to try and step into the ring with it, but Portal is widely considered one of the greatest games every made; some would call it foolhardy rather than brave. However, I think someone had to, and the concept behind Magrunner – the magnets and the testing – could be solid, yet so much of the presentation of that concept fails. Still, once you get a hang of the puzzles some of them actually aren't too bad, yet you have to battle through the first tedious hour to get to that point and the story seriously hamstrings the whole affair. So many times during this review I quit the game just because I couldn't be bothered to solve a puzzle, only to realise I had to keep playing to give it a fair shot. My opinion would start to sway a bit more positive, then I quit again for the lack of care. Which says everything about Magrunner: Dark Pulse really.
Magrunner: Dark Pulse was always going to bring comparisons to Valve’s seminal title. It’s brave to try and step into the ring with it, but Portal is widely considered one of the greatest games every made; some would call it foolhardy rather than brave. However, I think someone had to, and the concept behind Magrunner – the magnets and the testing – could be solid, yet so much of the presentation of that concept fails. Still, once you get a hang of the puzzles some of them actually aren’t too bad, yet you have to battle through the first tedious hour to get to that point and the story seriously hamstrings the whole affair. So many times during this review I quit the game just because I couldn’t be bothered to solve a puzzle, only to realise I had to keep playing to give it a fair shot. My opinion would start to sway a bit more positive, then I quit again for the lack of care. Which says everything about Magrunner: Dark Pulse really.
TOP GAME MOMENT
Cthulhu finally strikes. For a little while the game gets interesting.