Look at him run
Cheesy, cheeky mayhem. That's the sort of marketing strap line Magicka firmly embraces. Even as you're taken through the tutorial, tongue in cheek humour is woven into every line of text. This lighthearted comedy-fantasy from Paradox Interactive will make you think of Games like Majesty 2 and, the recently released, Dungeons. That isn't to say this is a base builder, far from it.
You control a robed wizard, via a top down view, who begins the game with huge amounts of power already unlocked. Working out how best to use that power is all part of the fun. The fact that your face is hidden by your hood helps encourage youthful misbehaviour, so although the game focuses on blasting enemy goblins, evil druids, beastmen and the like, you wont bat an eyelid if innocents and allies happen into your magical beams of destructive energy.
The single player campaign is tough, a play through often ending abruptly with you bursting into a pool of gore at the hands of overwhelming enemy numbers. The bad guys are varied and approach with a nice mix of tactics, including the odd witchdoctor with the same magical powers as you. The plot is entirely forgettable but characters are sprinkled liberally with quotes from your favourite cult movies and video games.
Using magic is a real treat and well thought out. You have a choice from a handful of elements, fire, water, life, rock and so on, stack up to five elements to form the basis of a spell and then cast the spell at your enemies, on yourself or anyone really. The number of elements in a stack usually determines the spell power but some of the elements are opposites to one another and cancel each other out. Exploring all combinations is a real laugh and will take anyone not looking up the combos online a long time to discover some of the more powerful spells.
Marking the game on those points alone would have me reaching for the 6.5 star. Fun for a while, with some interesting bits, but not a show stopper. However, all of the above takes second fiddle to the games real strength, COOP. You can play this with up to four chums online or even on the same computer, one on keyboard and three mates on controllers. Because of this we have decided to do something a little different with this review. I am inviting my cooperative partners to have their say and provide their score for the game. We will then average our marks to give the total Game-Debate score.
To get the ball rolling I give it an 8.5 out of 10.
Over to Prolific to carry on with the review...
Co-op is indeed the meat of Magicka, as with most RPGs. I was a huge fan of Diablo's online play and was bitterly disappointed when Torchlight came as a single-player-only experience, so when Felix got us together for some Magicka, I was quietly optimistic.
And I wasn't disappointed. Magicka may lack the production values of most big-name role players, but it more than makes up for it with wit, energy and sheer invention. The co-op mode follows the same bizarre storyline of the single player experience, but up to four people can play through at once, complete with voice chat.
The most addictive part of Magicka is the highly original blending together of various spell types, to create new and exciting (and gribbly exploding) combinations. Your spells are typical by themselves - ice, fire, rejuvenation, the sort of stuff these games are made of. But combine them, and you get all new powers that can wreak massive destruction on every enemy in sight.
For instance, combine a bit of fire with your standard energy blast and you shoot out a crimson ray that blasts apart any creature guileless enough to get in its way. These combinations are left to you to uncover, so experimental types will have hours of fun trying them all out.
And these combos don't just apply to your attacks either. Combine fire with your shield power, for instance, and you create a wall of fire that keeps the gribblys at bay.
All of this is fun enough in single-player, but even better in multiplayer. Remember Ghostbusters - the infamous speech Egon gives about not crossing the streams? Well, you can most definitely cross streams in Magicka. If your bolt of doom hits another from one of your companions, the resultant surge is enough to literally explode enemies clear across the screen. Hilarity!
You can also cast spells on your friends, to heal or revive them if necessary. But of course, this wouldn't be co-op without a little friendly fire, and aggrieved former friends purposefully reducing each other to piles of dust. It's easy to get carried away in the heat of the moment and accidentally flambé your best friend, but don't be surprised if they shoot a bolt of ice up your arse once you resurrect them.
I'll leave our fellow co-op buddy Phat_chopps to give his own account of co-op and see if he found the survival mode as excellent as I. I'm signing off with a big thumbs up for this over-the-top fragfest, 8.5 from me too.
Over to you Phat_Chopps
So far, so positive, eh? Yeah, well, I'm going to ruin that now.
My first game with my fellow Game Debaters was a blundering disaster. My mic wasn't working; my headphones were playing up; Steam chat wasn't popping up in-game. All I had was white in-game chat being posted against a partially white background. And I didn't know the chat key to respond.
Worse still was the fact that I'd only played it briefly beforehand - I didn't know any spells; either combos, or pre-defined spells such as the all important Revive. Add to this the fact I'd redefined my controls in an absurdly demented manner, and you can imagine my (and I imagine everyone else's) frustration as I'm the only wizard left standing, not knowing I could revive my stricken mage-chums. "WASpace", Felix pleaded repeatedly but I didn't have a clue what he was on about, and couldn't respond without tabbing out of the game. All alone in my deaf-mute world, I did precisely nothing until I died. So, so frustrating, and a poor start to proceedings.
The next few games were far more enjoyable. I started mixing up some spell combos and, as the effects flashed pleasingly around my monitor and bad guys started popping, I was actually smiling. I know! Of course, I'd also learnt the Revive spell by now so everyone was happy. Three cheers!
Thing is, this unbridled euphoria lasted barely a few hours. Then I realised that, yeah, it's OK, but I'm not really that keen on Magicka. Every game descends into me running round in circles, mashing random keys and hoping the effects are dazzling. There's so much going on that I completely lose track of the other players - teamwork goes out of the window - and it turns into a boring, highly frustrating mess. And I hate, HATE, the goblin archers. Oh, and you can't join a game that's in-session.
Look, I admit that some frustrations are because I'm a bit crap at it. I can see some fun here - the survival arenas make me think of Robotron, which is always nice - and I've witnessed good teamwork (just, sadly, not involving me!). Hell, I'll even play it again - if my friends don't mind quitting their current game to let me join. I just won't play very much because nothing about Magicka makes me want to get better at it, and that, for me, is a bit of a game killer. 6.5 from me.
Ok, back to me, Felix.
So there you have it. An 8 out of 10 when we round the three scores. A positive outcome with some niggles. At £8 a copy its definitely a game to have on standby when your chums come over to play.
Were we meant to let them surround us?