Games that patently borrow ideas from other games are often bashed and criticized, often due to not enough effort put when trying to make the new concepts be any noticeable, and in turn the result is categorized as a rehash. Frogwares Games' first person puzzler Magrunner, is a prime example of the opposite. While it is very apparent that it is inspired by games like Portal and in a way, by Antichamber, Magrunner: Dark Pulse is an independent puzzler on its own.
Magrunner is all about magnetism, implementing it into a puzzler filled with moving platforms, boxes and closed stages, and at some points, even latent dangers. What first seems as a mind-bending puzzle game, soon deviates from its path, and a robust yet wild Mythos storytelling takes over.
The year is 2050, a big futuristic company called Magtech, aimed to space exploring is recruiting fitted and adept people that stand out from the majority, and throws them in a testing facility. The main character, Dax Ward, is an enthusiastic orphan genius, who was raised by a dropout Mutant, the only father figure that could support his goals, and his latest wish is to dominate the Magtech test, unknowing what lies ahead. Something I consider worth mentioning is that the CEO to Magtech is called Kram Gruckezber. I'll leave it at that.
The main mechanic of Magrunner is magnetism. Dax wears the Magtech glove, which allows him to shoot two different charges at specific objects, which interact with one another according to what charge they currently have. Unlike in reality, when two objects have the same charge, they attract each other, and when they have different charges, they repel. Combine this with well thought-out puzzles and closed test chambers, and you have a lot of room for magnetic fun. Usually, puzzles in Magrunner are very challenging and may require you to over think a dismissed way out, and picture more than one possibility to beating a room. It pretty much resembles Portal puzzle pacing and transitioning, and at times it can be even trickier.
Magnetic repulsion can be intensified, for example, having two piled up platforms have a charge, and a third one a different one, the odd one is sent flying with a considerable force, and that is generally the goal, which helps you reach higher grounds and move on. Boxes make an appearance as well, some smaller than others, and some others even with explosive properties. The latter helps fend against any possible threat that stands in your way or, worst case scenario, finds you entering its territory. Even though it's not strongly action oriented, Magrunner does involve a bit of defend yourself parts.
Between training chambers, you'll meet a couple of interesting people that may or may not just bore you and have you look forward to continue playing with magnetism. What I mean about this is that only two or three characters are really important to the plot of Magrunner, and not even those few are well portrayed by the voice actors or in-game animations. If it weren't for Dax talking to himself from time to time, you would pretty much just play through a dull game whose only profitable aspect is the gameplay.
Graphics are great. Magrunner uses Unreal Engine 3, and although it's not as impressive-looking as big budget titles, it does succeed in setting a nice ambient with enjoyable visuals and detailed reflection and shadow effects. At times it may seem a bit too bright, or even annoying to the eyes, but Magrunner features a swappable color scheme, I suppose useful for colorblind gamers or just people with an oversensitive sight. Later down the road, you'll actually notice the game takes an unexpected turn and a dark atmosphere is presented before you, which I think was too gloomy for anyone to spot anything on the screen. Music and sound effects are just there. Not shabby but not outstanding either, music is barely perceptible and the background noise just about does its job, and that is as far as that goes.
Magrunner: Dark Pulse is an okay Puzzler game that plays with physics and magnetism, and delivers a solid gameplay that sometimes seems too familiar and will make you go "I've played this before", while still maintaining a good enough level of originality. However, the narration and muted characters bring down the game excitement and could keep you from playing many hours straight, though that might occur before, caused by the rather tiring art style and illumination. You can pick it up for twenty bucks at Steam, if you really feel like getting a puzzle game right away. If not, you can always wait for the price to go down and save some money for that one DLC you've been wanting to purchase or a cheap indie game that caught your attention.