Since the brilliant Portal titles, we’ve not had such a puzzle title like the beloved franchise. This is where Magrunner: Dark Pulse comes in. A dazzling first-person puzzler, with it’s mechanics centered around magnetism and it’s narrative around the mysterious HP Lovecraft mythical monster god, Cthulhu.
Just like a child stamps it’s feet for attention, Cthulhu is starved for it. The Cthulhu mythos is well known for it’s mysterious and dark tones, perhaps more known in video-game culture, hence why it works so well among video games. Here, developer Frogwares have done a great job of retaining those dark tones and placing them into a completely new setting with some incredibly frustrating, but also beautifully satisfying, game mechanics.
At it’s core, Magrunner is a puzzler, much like Portal, but instead of using Portals to solve these conundrums, you use magnetism to attract or repel platforms and objects from each other to reach your goal. The game begins in a similar fashion as Portal did. You are introduced with the premise of the game, slowly being taken through each ‘training room’, until the chaos unfolds as you progress into other rooms.
The protagonist Dax. C Ward, is not so great however and neither are his counterparts. Dax, you see, is the Jock of future science. A supposed scientific genius, raised by a mutant outcast, although this isn’t really too important to the game, how he is presented, is at times hilarious. Although I’m not sure whether this is deliberate or not, it’s like they jammed Vin Diesel into this game.
But this doesn’t matter, because how Magrunner is presented to you, just gets better and better through each level. Thing’s start to get unnerving when you leave the safety of the bright white training rooms. Something is awry here and it’s up to you to find out why. As if the puzzling couldn’t get more enduring on the psyche, Frogwares throw elements of psychological torment and horror into the mix. There are moments when your latched away from the puzzling and experience something unnerving or at time terrifying, signifying times of terror ahead.
Frogwares have also done a great job at the general aesthetics of Magrunner. The ‘Training rooms’ presented at the beginning of the game present a gorgeous clean cut image, much like being trapped in a hospital room. As the game progresses out of the these clean cut rooms, you’re presented with a sort of dystopian image. These facilities that you’ve been progressing through have been somewhat destroyed and you’re required to progress through the underbelly as it we’re of this mysterious corporation. All of this running on the unreal engine, makes for a pretty eye pleasing experience.
Playing like a first-person shooter, most of Magrunner’s main story progresses through the holograms on your magtech glove (Your weapon as it we’re which, when fired, charges objects/platforms with magnetism). Although at times the plot can get a little dry, the atmosphere and the presentation of the Cthulhu mythos is pretty spot on.
Much of Magrunner is vastly entertaining, but at times there are aspects which bring the game down. Much of the puzzling can get very mundane quickly, for me taking breaks from the game was a must. As mentioned before much of the plot takes itself too seriously, for a game which is as colourful at this it does sag in parts, but the overall tone of the game is kept very well with the introduction of the Cthulhu mythos. In addition to this loading screens are littered practically everywhere in the game, lowering immersion to the player as they progress through each level.
Although Magrunner can feel dry at times, overall it is a great puzzler, it’s a pretty short game, clocking in at around 9-10 hours, but a brilliant single-player title none the less, for those who have been longing for some more Portal puzzler action. Frogwares have done a great job of reviving the somewhat stagnant puzzler genre, although at times you can tell it’s directly inspired by the Portal franchise, Magrunner introduces new mechanics and a totally original narrative, making for a frustrating, satisfying and terrifying experience.