Magrunner: Dark Pulse has been compared to Portal, and while there are a few superficial similarities (like a main portion of the game taking place in a series of test chambers), the concepts and gameplay and even the story couldn’t be further removed from Valve’s teleporting classic. Magrunner first and foremost has a story, a real story, which is no surprise since Frogwares is known for their adventures like Sherlock Holmes. This story even manages to work in a bit of H.P. Lovecraft’s Cthulhu lore into the mix.
You play as Dax, one of seven chosen to participate in MagTech Corporation’s space training program. Oddly enough, training for space consists of putting on a special glove and going through a series of increasingly challenging puzzle rooms where you can charge objects and pieces of the environment with positive or negative energy to solve various magnetic puzzles. While exaggerated for effect, the concepts are quite real and brilliantly executed if not completely opposite from reality.
In this bizarro world similarly charged objects attract while opposites repel. Yes, Bill Nighy just threw up in his mouth a little, but it helps sell the color-coded concepts when it comes to building up a mass of energy to create a more forceful effect. Two blocks of opposite color will push away from each other but one green block against three red will fire away like a bullet. Vertically speaking, you can use various combinations of matching and opposite colors to create lifts that will elevate you to varying heights. Learning how these cumulative effects work is part of the charm of this game.
So you run around shooting items with your wrist-gun choosing red or green (or any other color you wish since this is customizable – a nice idea for color blind gamers) and push and pull items or move ledges or fling boxes through glass or springboard across gaps. The imagination required to design these levels is second only to the logic required to solve them. There are 40+ levels but sooner or later evil starts to invade the training lab and things start to take a turn to the dark side. You’ll venture outside and eventually into space to confront Cthulhu and its minions. While the game never reaches the scare levels of F.E.A.R there are some surprisingly bloody and shocking scenes offering a mature twist to the action-puzzle genre.
Magrunner: Dark Pulse is mostly enjoyable for its brain-teasing puzzles. The story slips into the background and is soon forgotten. There are some surprisingly evil puzzles in the last third of the game that may have people quitting the game due to their painful trial and error tactics. There are also some annoying load times in the earlier levels, as you are forced back to this central hub area between each puzzle room to consult with your trainer – who drinks his coffee from a well-product placed Sherlock mug.
The graphics are pretty awesome although the training lab design and color scheme starts to wear thin before you eventually break out. The character art is good and there is some nice voice acting in the cutscenes and holographic transmissions. Overall, the graphics fall somewhere between Portal 2 and Quantum Conundrum. I did enjoy the option of having the magnetic fields being visible through an in-game toggle. Seeing their bubble of influence really helped solving some of the puzzles.
I think I enjoy the concept of Magrunner: Dark Pulse more than the actual game, and I would love to see magnetism puzzles come into play in a more rewarding game with a better story and more creative levels that don’t keep me in the same visually dull set of rooms for 4-6 hours before finally letting me see the world. Depending on your love of puzzles (or Cthulhu) this may or may not be a $20 game, but I can certainly recommend if it goes on sale for anything less.