It may seem ironic that a game about magnetism is so attractive, but Magrunner: Dark Pulse will catch your attention right from the beginning and won’t let it go until the credits start rolling.
Arguably, the original Portal established its own genre. The ability of solving puzzles from a first-person perspective wasn’t necessarily unheard of prior to the release of Valve’s creative puzzler, but Portal was the first title to perfect that concept. Granted, Portal is much more than a game in which you solve intricate puzzles with a dual-shot gun, but it’s that core mechanic what made it such a popular game. Magrunner: Dark Pulse is remarkably similar to Portal, but has enough new ideas to make it stand out.
Magrunner: Dark Pulse is set in the year 2050 where a multinational corporation called Gruckezber (an obvious anagram of Zuckerberg) dominates the world. The company’s CEO is researching a new source of technology, but in order to test it, Gruckezber needs a select group of people who are willing to undertake some experiments. These people are called magrunners and their job is to go to a training facility and be part of a three-month program. You assume the role of 23-year old Dax Ward, a magrunner who volunteers to be part of the test. But the training doesn’t go according to plan and soon enough, some surreal events will start taking place in the training facility.
The game’s core mechanic is extremely simple to understand: objects with the same colored charge attract each other and objects with different colored charge repel each other. That’s the basic mechanic you need to take into account before navigating the labyrinthine levels. Luckily, the tutorial makes a great job of explaining how this concept works and how you can apply these principles to manipulate the environments to your advantage. To do so, you have the Mag Glove at your disposal. This is an innovative piece of technology that allows you to fire two types of magnetic charges.
But what does that mean in practice? Stacking two cubes with different charges will propel the cube on top into the air which can be beneficial to break a glass, for example. But when you’re standing on the top cube, you’re the one who’s propelled into the air and you can use this to travel to faraway platforms. Soon enough, new mechanics appear, such as a mechanical dog called Newton, platforms with a cyclical pattern, shooting turrets that attack you and explosive cubes that can be used to kill enemies.
The first hours of gameplay are remarkably similar to Portal. But how similar is Magrunner to Valve’s first-person puzzle-platformer? In Magrunner, your main weapon has the ability of firing two different shots and this is an integral part of solving puzzles. Once you have cleared a level, you have to go to the next one by means of an elevator. Even the long loading times between levels are reminiscent of Portal. Although the similarities to the Portal series are staggering, delve a little deeper and you’ll see that Magrunner has a personality of its own. The use of H.P. Lovecraft’s Cthulhu mythology is a significant part of what makes Magrunner so unique both from a narrative and a visual standpoint. As soon as some of the Cthulhu elements appear, the game loses its generic look and adopts a visually distinct one.
As a puzzle game, Magrunner can be eminently satisfying. Carefully studying your surroundings, trying different possibilities, stacking cubes, propelling into the air and figuring out how to use the different objects’ magnetic charges to your advantage can be frustrating, but when you finally solve a convoluted puzzle, Magrunner is extremely gratifying. In addition, when all the different mechanics come into play at the same time, Magrunner becomes a compelling puzzle game that’s both challenging and fun.
But for all its strengths, Magrunner isn’t without some flaws. Some of the puzzles are way too difficult for their own good and when that happens, you can usually rely on trial-and-error to make progress. In addition, the main narrative is nothing special and some of the locations that you explore at the beginning of the game are extremely generic, such as the training facility. Finally, I can’t help but to think that the similarities to Portal prevent Magrunner from realizing its full potential, which is definitely a shame.
Nevertheless, don’t mistake Magrunner for another Portal clone. This is an inspired puzzle game that’s thrilling to play. In the end, it may seem ironic that a game about magnetism is so attractive, but Magrunner: Dark Pulse will catch your attention right from the beginning and won’t let it go until the credits start rolling.