Cthulhu Promise No Cake – Magrunner: Dark Pulse
This game was reviewed on the PC.
There’s only one thing you truly need to know about Cthulhu: he never promised there’d be cake. Magrunner: Dark Pulse was developed by Frogwares and published by Focus Home Interactive, and saw its release to the PC on June 20,2013, just after the excitement of the Electronic Arts Expo started to die down. Now, console gamers will have a chance to get their hands on this Portal-esque, first-person action puzzle game, when it is released to the PlayStation 3 on October 23, and the Xbox 360 on October 25. Is this game going to be an addictive new favourite, or a title that will fall back between the cracks?
In 2035, the LifeNET Total Existence Network had linked every person, business, and government together in one global, growing database that was slowly evolving. Aside from the potentially horrifying implications of this type of mainframe (think SkyNet), LifeNET allowed the CEO, Kram Gruckezber, to pool the world’s list of scientists and create a team that uncovered a type of free energy: Magnetic Technology. With this technology created, LifeNET developed an elite team called Magrunners, who would use this Magnetic Technology to perform deep space exploration, and become the envy of the entire world.
Dax Ward is a young tech genius whose brilliance has been nurtured by his caregiver, a mutant scientist named Gamaji. With his aptitude for genetics, engineering, and robotics, the boy genius adapted the information about MagTech and built his own technology. By the time Dax was 15, he had created his own cybernetic dog named Newton, and by the time he was 23, had built his own Mag Glove to use in the LifeNET training facility, and applied to be a Magrunner. Dax and Gamaji were not rich, or sponsored, and he would certainly be an underdog, but he was accepted and it would seem his dream had come true. Or had it?
Portal, even as a fairly short game, had an influence on pop culture that spanned far beyond its life cycle. Portal’s GLaDOS has been this generations’ celebrity villain in the gaming industry, and her song “Still Alive” has gone viral over the internet, and remained that way for years. GLaDOS has made cameo voice appearances in other games, such as Rock Band, Left 4 Dead 2, and even Dota 2. It stands to reason that there would be other developers who would attempt to play with the concepts and gameplay from a game that made such an impact, and Frogwares decided it too would make a polarized puzzler using the same basic concept, only with negative and positive magnetic pulls instead of actual portals.
This time, players will fight against a puzzle environment gone wrong, and the evil Cthulhu, a fictional cosmic being who seeks to destroy mankind. Dax uses his Mag Glove to aim a blue or orange laser that polarizes platforms, cubes, and other objects to move them around and get through each level. The concept is simple: polarized objects will be attracted to other polarized objects of the same colour, and be repelled by objects polarized with the opposite colour. Shooting an object with the same colour twice will cancel this effect, and the objects will return to their natural state. The only downside to this type of gameplay is that at times, the polarized objects tend to glitch and the player will have to cancel the polarization and then shoot the objects again before any reaction happens. Sometimes an object in blue, for instance, will decide it’s not going to gravitate towards a blue object right beside it. If the player neutralizes the object, then makes it blue again, it will react. This can get really hazardous, especially in later stages where it’s a race against the clock, and having objects react properly is imperative to Dax’s survival.
Science fiction gives artists and fans limitless possibilities with content and landscapes, and Magrunner: Dark Pulse takes the opportunity to create a realistic universe with a twist. The cybertech graphical theme takes Dax from modern looking puzzle stages, complete with comfortable wall plants and glass staircases, to dank sewer systems and prison cells, right over to a brand new space odyssey with fragile bits of meteor platforms and monstrous creatures (like Cthulhu) lurking in space around them. The diverse changes to the levels make for a thrilling visual experience. The 3D environments use every possible angle to test players’ spatial awareness, and fans of Portal will definitely feel at home with this game. The characters are a little cartoonish in comparison to their surroundings, polished in such a way that makes the lifelike people and monsters seem almost rubbery. There is also a notable difference between Dax’s positioning when jumping through the air or from platform to platform, almost as if there were invisible planks around each object for him to walk on. While this makes for easier gameplay, it also tends to make the game feel less immersive. It’s a bit of a contrast when you take in all the subtle details in the actual gameplay, and even the subtleties in hand gestures and animations can be easily overlooked by these graphical distractions.
Lighthearted and almost heroic quickly turns to disturbing and traumatic as Dax begins to uncover the evil plot afoot and the inescapable path he is on, and the minimalistic music fits perfectly with this. During the first few phases of your adventure, while competing for top place as a Magrunner, the music has high-pitched electronic music tones playing gently in the background, which quickly evolve around the 15th level to lower toned dramatic bass notes, emphasizing that all is not well. The voice actor for Dax starts off sounding cool and confident, but his voice begins to waver and eventually the notes of heightened panic and anger rise up and out into your speakers to elevate your sense of urgency as his situation becomes more deadly. The lack of overwhelming music, and even eerie silence while you’re in space, hearing nothing but echoes from Cthulhu as he watches you make your way through a maze of meteor platforms, makes for a great audible experience without overextending its artistic licensing.
With a magnetic, puzzle-based gameplay concept like Portal, an AI network like Skynet, and an all-powerful enemy like Cthulhu, Magrunner: Dark Pulse takes some of the best ideas in science fiction and attempts to bring it together into a wonderful experience that will keep you thinking on your toes. Some people may claim that games that mimic other games in the genre aren’t worth playing, but those people will be missing out on some seriously fun gaming. If you enjoy action, adventure, and a fully realised three-dimensional puzzle game, Magrunner: Dark Pulse is definitely one you should pick up!
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