When Magrunner: Dark Pulse initially released onto PC back in June it was planned to be making its way to consoles by the third quarter. Now Magrunner has finally reached Xbox 360 and PS3 and its time to take a look at it again to see how well it works on the new platforms. Is Magrunner able to offer the same experience or even a better one? Or will players lose their sanity just playing the game instead of the eldritch horrors it holds within? Let’s look at what Magrunner can give on the XBLA.
In the distant future of 2048 humanity has finally found a way to produce easy renewable energy thanks to the wonders of magnetism. This newly advancing field of science now offers many interesting developments the most amazing of which are of course the Magrunners. Seven special candidates, including Dax Ward the main character, that have been collected to run through a variety of tests in a special facility over the San Andreas Fault, an interesting story to hear to be sure, but unfortunately one that is forced to be shown rather than experienced for the player themselves. The story of Magrunner is intriguing to say the least, but the problems the story has unfortunately comes from the fact that for the most part it is told outside of actual gameplay. A few cutscenes here and there are fine for interactive storytelling, but here much of it comes off as ham-handed. The introduction is too long and just when the story seems to have reached enough backstory to begin gameplay it turns out to be just a break before another cutscene.
What’s most disheartening is that not all of the storytelling suffers in this way, early on many of the character interactions work perfectly fine and fit the constrictions of the universe told in the elevator between test chambers, in these cases the pacing actually works well giving the characters and their relationships time to find some depth. But, then as the facility goes to hell and the elevators are replaced for transitioning from room to room, the dialogue and character interaction begins to bleed into the gameplay itself, which isn’t necessarily bad until the game starts handicapping the player to ensure they finish listening to the story. Despite these problems however the story itself is able to at least build up to a suitable conclusion befit the Cthulhu name, even if it is forced upon the player a bit too strong.
FPS based around a one trick mechanic is not the most original concept, but in this case the one trick mechanic does turn out pretty different than similar games. Basing the puzzles around magnetism, attracting and repelling different objects to get the desired effects does actually require a much different means of thinking than one might expect. The puzzles are fairly straightforward at the beginning and are able to ramp up the difficulty as the game progresses, though the learning curve might throw some players for a loop as the game transitions away from the clean facility to the run-down and monster filled rooms later on. The difficulty however can sometimes stem from wondering what to do or where to go later in the game, but this aspect does fall in line well with the game as the only tool the player has at their disposal is magnetism it doesn’t leave too much for the player to work through.
Another aspect that sets Magrunner apart is the monster that players must face throughout the game, facing off against more than just a few turrets that players can easily bypass. Monsters ranging from Deep Ones that will stalk and kill the player, to Mi-Go that will protect certain areas preventing players from reaching them, to giant monstrosities that roam around forcing the player to watch out for where they are. These monsters help to give the game a more horror style gameplay, where Dax is almost powerless to fight these enemies except in instances where explosive cubes are available to use against them. This provides an interesting juxtaposition of puzzles requiring careful thought and planning and scrambling to escape and hopefully defeat these monsters, although sometimes switching between the two far too quickly.
Playing through the game with a controller instead of a keyboard and mouse provides a drastically different experience. Where the mouse affords great precision when trying to fire the magnetism charges accurately, the controller seems able to control much better at moving around. So, being on console and having only the controller option producing a slight difficulty in aiming exactly where meaning to. Depending on sensitivity as well, trying to get accurate shots on distance and/or smaller targets can sometimes be a bit problematic, though while much of the game is slower paced being based around the solving the puzzles, this isn’t much of a problem. Other the other hand, when being chased down by monsters and trying desperately to not die all resting on hitting a mark can lead to frustration until being able to set up a preferred method of aiming for these situations.
While the story mode has over 40 levels there is not much more to be found elsewhere in the game. While there is still the Hall of Fame for messages added into the game from the crowdfunding there are no additional modes for players to test themselves on. There are leaderboards to see how players stack up against each other, as well as different achievements for beating certain levels quickly or without dying, but other than these there isn’t much offered for replay-ability. However, being offered as an XBLA title and containing a campaign of decent length this doesn’t really hurt the game much.
Visuals and Audio
The transition from PC to console doesn’t seem to have cost much in the graphics department or sound. The game still looks very good, especially for an XBLA game and the audio quality still stands up as well. The voice acting is for the most part very well done, except for a few instances of dialogue that feels a bit clunky or awkward, but is able to express exactly what it needs to for the vast majority of the time. The best part of both of these aspects though is of course the transition from the neat and tidy lab like setting to the horror filled space levels. Both the environment and the music are able to encapsulate the each area as well as the feelings of both Dax and the player as the story goes on.
The tale of Dax C. Ward as he conquers the challenges laid before him in the Magrunner facility and he finds himself fighting for his life from Cthulhu Mythos brand monsters is great. It is just the execution that makes the game stumble along as the gameplay and the story both try to develop and unfortunately step on each others toes. Despite these Magrunner has still transitioned very well to consoles and being offered for half the price makes it an even better bang for the buck. Those that missed out on the PC release or who have been waiting for it to reach consoles should find it an interesting and unique challenge for their mind.
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