Magrunner: Dark Pulse is a first-person puzzle game that has a gun that has two fire modes. If it sounds like I am trying to make Magrunner: Dark Pulse sound like Portal, that’s because I am. If you think that comparison is unfair, give me another paragraph.
Similar to Portal, the main player is placed in a number of tests where they have to solve the puzzle to exit the room. The game starts to move away from the test chamber progression in the second Act and ultimately has the player fighting… well in this case it appears to be Cthulhu.
So not everything is Portal here, and it is lacking some of the best parts of that comparison, having neither a charismatic villain such as Glados or a focused and humorous story, but Magrunner has clearly learned about game design from Portal as it tries very hard to imitate that formula that still remains one of the strongest puzzle games ever made.
This is not a bad thing, in fact, if Magrunner: Dark Pulse stuck with the imitation throughout the game, I may have enjoyed the game more and preferred it. The problem Magrunner: Dark Pulse tries to differentiate itself from Portal and that’s when the troubles begin.
Magrunner: Dark Pulse creates a story starting with a game show and players using their magnet powers to solve puzzles. Each level in the first Act has the player enter a contained chamber where they have to learn about their abilities and solve a rather simple puzzle. Almost every level here is well crafted and interesting, requiring thought and problem-solving but the answers tended to be relatively reasonable.
The story though doesn’t really work. There’s a large tournament going on with the promise of a big prize but … it doesn’t really matter because by the time Act 2 comes around most of that is tossed aside for a new story as everything goes wrong. You see, while the self-contained chambers of the first act mirror Portal, those are the best moments for Magrunner: Dark Pulse where its focus is on teaching the player.
When the game reaches Act 2, the players go through more dangerous locations, but still solve similar problems. The issue really starts when the game starts to promise combat is coming. Players will start to see enemies who mysteriously disappear for no reason.
The problem is Act 2 is when Magrunner: Dark Pulse starts to drop the Portal facade and try to make a name for themselves, and sadly it’s also where Magrunner: Dark Pulse stopped being interesting.
Puzzle games are really challenging to make. If you make the game too easy, players will get bored. However, if the game doesn’t have a good visual language or a way to draw players’ eyes to where they should be looking, players will eventually struggle.
Magrunner: Dark Pulse crafted solid levels for the first Act, but once the second act arrives, I’m not sure what happened but most of the levels became clunky and much of the language changed due to a new location. Many solutions I used may not even be the intended solution. Some levels felt that I needed to use glitches, and others felt they required too much precision.
Many moves in the second act felt haphazard and that I must have somehow gimmicked my character to jump farther. Basically, the game loses much of the structure that made the puzzles in the initial levels feel so clean and well designed. Part of the reason is new level design, but part of the reason is the game is less clear with what it is allowed in its ruleset.
I did run into one turret, which killed players but didn’t give satisfactory feedback before death. I wondered what was happening before finally realizing that I was being shot after three deaths in a row. Issues like this start appearing all the time, and it made me start to appreciate much of the design of Portal, due to the lack of that polish and feeling in Magrunner: Dark Pulse.
The fact is, I didn’t get to what many people call the worst part of Magrunner: Dark Pulse, where the game starts to delve into combat or horror instead of puzzles, but around the halfway point in the game I realized, I no longer wanted to continue.
I’ve realized this year, that when a game makes me feel like I don’t want to go on, I should move on to other games instead of suffering. I almost gave up around 40 percent of the way through Magrunner: Dark Pulse and tried to push on, but before long I found the next few levels to be underwhelming. And thus I put Magrunner: Dark Pulse aside with a little more than 60 percent of the levels done.
There are a couple of good ideas, but the most interesting parts of the game are the opening levels, and as the game goes on it feels like the team struggled to find a reason to continue going on. Like I said though, I think they would have been better off sticking to what worked in Portal rather than trying to find their own way because that’s when they started exploring their own ideas is when the developers got into trouble.
I give Magrunner: Dark Pulse a
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