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Magrunner: A Title That Beats Portal at its Own Game


Marcus Estrada

When Portal launched in 2007 it was a massively unexpected success. Sure, it was a new game developed by Valve but the biggest reason for its acceptance was due to being part of The Orange Box. When people picked up this great deal of a collection on PS3, Xbox 360, or PC, they got a taste of a game they didn“t all necessarily expect to love so much. Since then, it has gone on to become ingrained into modern gaming culture, whether you played it or not, via various jokes.

 

You would think that there would be a large push to copy what made Portal successful but we have not seen that occur much. Games that are somewhat similar have come out, but they are not so much copies as they are complex puzzle games that now feel free to exist in a post-Portal world. Of course, none of these other puzzle games, such as Kim Swift“s own Quantum Conundrum, have been able to cause massive excitement.

 

This is a shame because one game has come out recently that satisfies almost all the same mental needs that Portal did but also includes its own intriguing spin. The game I“m talking about is Magrunner: Dark Pulse which is currently available on PC. Developer Frogwares have previously worked on various Sherlock Holmes games and, while those are puzzling adventures, they are nothing like what they“ve come up with for Magrunner.

 

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Many who have seen this title on Steam have likely thought it looks a heck of a lot like Portal. With little to no knowledge about the game, it actually does. It is a first-person puzzle platformer that puts a young man in a series of test chambers to solve puzzles and prove his competence. Of course, Chell“s adventure through the labs of Aperture had her forced to solve a great deal of puzzles too. Magrunner“s Dax even has his own technical doodad arm gun thingamajig which is the source of manipulating his environment.

 

On the surface it seems fair to assert that Magrunner has taken a whole lot from Portal. However, once you give the game a try you see that while there does appear to be some inspiration, it takes itself in a completely different - and very worthwhile - direction. This is primarily due to the gameplay, which could even be considered more complex than Portal (prior to the additions made by Portal 2).

 

The main aspect you“re controlling in the game is magnetism. Only specific items in the environment are able to be magnetized and these form the basis of all puzzles. Magnetizing two or more objects causes them to attract or repel. These are the basic properties of magnetism and they are used to great effect within puzzles. Beyond this, you are able to have cumulative power if multiple magnetic fields are near enough to one another. As you might expect, there is a lot of creative uses of the forces between magnets beyond the basics.

 

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Therein lies the great power of Magrunner as a puzzle game far more nuanced than Portal. Portal is no doubt a great game and one which was able to get creative with momentum but could have used even more. This seems the main reason why Portal 2 instituted the use of gels to add more depth to puzzles. Of course, Magrunner has no sequel planned as of yet but the base game has already spawned a great deal of tough, new types of puzzles to work through.

 

If there“s something to dislike about the game, it“s simply that there“s too much variation between difficult puzzles and those that hardly count as a puzzle. In comparison, Valve were able to create a far more streamlined experience. Considering that Frogwares is not Valve, however, shows that they have still come up with a pretty phenomenal puzzler that is not seeing the kind of attention it should.

 

Distancing oneself from Portal while inhibiting a similar space in the genre is likely difficult to do. Some who see this game consider it and play due to an existing love for the likes of Portal. Others may come to the conclusion that nothing will ever be better than the Portal series and skip out. Of course, this long-winded comparison may further cement this notion for a few readers. But the whole thrust of this is that there is always room for more games to inhibit a genre and truly confounding puzzle games have been lacking - at least of this scope.

 

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Although similarities are present, playing Magrunner still made me feel like a terribly unintelligent person. There were many times I knew where the game wanted me to go but had no means of getting there. Slowly uncovering the various uses of magnetic fields was challenging but exciting as well. Aside from the story, that was what most thrilled players about Portal. It was and still remains a great experience for wrapping your mind around increasingly complex puzzles. Magrunner succeeds at providing these much-needed mental exercises and is worth exploring. If you“re on the fence, give it a look because it might just surprise you.

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