[su_highlight background=”#3b88ff” color=”#ffffff”]Platforms: PC, Steam, Xbox One (Summer) | Developer: Guru Games | Publisher: Gambitious Digital Entertainment | ESRB: NA | Controls: Keyboard[/su_highlight]
Magnetic: Cage Closed is a brand new PC first person puzzle platformer from Guru Games, aiming to add innovation and replayability to the tried and true genre mixture of puzzles and jumping. While it’s not so shiny or new-looking from outside, spending a little time with the game soon reveals a solid, attractive core of puzzly goodness.
In Magnetic: Cage Closed you play as a voiceless prisoner, condemned to death row. Instead of receiving swift, sanctioned death, you are taken to a secret facility where you are tasked with completing a series of “experiments” – in reality, you are using prototype equipment to clear a room full of death traps and puzzles while being taunted by a malign voice.
Wait… that sounds familiar…
It’s easy to see where Guru Games drew inspiration, at least superficially. Harbouring the isolated test subject mentality of Portal and the adversarial malice of The Cube, Magnetic does not hide its inspirations. That’s not a bad thing, since it’s very honest about what it is, and its roots are extremely solid.
Your death row inmate is shunted from room to room by a voyeuristic psychologist and an uncaring warden, driving her deeper into the testing environment. The aim of the experiments is not entirely clear, but you are given a prototype piece of equipment with which to escape your predicament – the magnet gun.
The prototype magnet gun is a surprisingly versatile tool, with the simple lifting and throwing of boxes coming as a staple, and more complicated manoeuvres like levitation and boost jumps coming into the mix. Each new discovery of an ability slots in well with your established repertoire, soon becoming mastered. You quickly graduate from throwing a box at a switch on a wall to hovering above spike traps and performing agile aerial acrobatics thanks to magnetic panels. Later, you find tiles that generate their own magnetic fields, interrupting your trajectories and adding a little spice to the mix. The magnet gun is an interesting tool, and one that feels like a fresh addition to the puzzle genre.
Along with the standard “put box X on switch Y”, you also have to actively avoid death traps. Long falls won’t kill you – thanks to a fancy suit and some body modification – but fire from wall mounted flamethrowers, chlorine gas puddles, shooting bolts of electricity, and pointy spike tiles will definitely do damage. While not the most unique pool of tricks to draw from, they definitely work to impede your progress and enhance your motivation. They act as further obstacles to complicate puzzle solving, throwing great variety into the mix.
There are four tiers of puzzles, including the tutorial, which slowly yet steadily increase in difficulty. Like the best puzzle games, Magnetic introduces mechanics to the player, then combines them in interesting ways, all while throwing in logic and reasoning skills. Guru get the difficulty curve just right with Magnetic, allowing for mastery and discovery, and making every solution feel well-earned. I played through 33 of the stages (one is a long organic “stage” that consists of several puzzle rooms) in my run towards the end, taking me about six hours, and never once did I feel subject to lazy puzzle design, or have to walk away in frustration. It really strikes that hard to find balance, making me feel like I was genuinely solving puzzles in an innovative way.
Guru Games have added some amount of replayability to Magnetic. During the course of the game, you’ll be asked to make moral or philosophical choices. Depending on your answer, you’ll take a different branch and encounter different challenges. I didn’t get to try this branching puzzle structure out for myself, though – for a number of small and frustrating reasons. Firstly, there is no chapter/puzzle select option outside time trial mode, meaning you can’t jump into a choice room and try out the other option at will. Secondly, the autosave system eschews a more practical manual save, meaning you can’t make a backup save before the choice, select each branch, and then unlock the puzzles in the already impaired chapter select.
Since this branching structure is essentially gating access to just more puzzle rooms, most of its replay value is not accessible unless you want to slog through earlier rooms to reach the critical junctions. It would be quicker and more convenient for those who just want to do puzzles if the game was linear and longer, rather than branching with boring retracing. There is a time trial mode, which will keep perfectionists happy – as will the interesting and actually challenging achievements. There is replayability here, but it’s sadly clunkier than it should be.
Magnetic is not a pretty game. It’s not actively repugnant, but it really won’t impress. The concept art shown during loading screens and the credits is nice, although the transition from artist-rendered panels into three dimensional game world is not executed well in engine. Graphics are informative without being flashy, conveying important stage features effectively and consistently – if not attractively.
This function over form mentality extends to the sound design, with the roar of flamethrowers and the thunk of crushing pillars distinct, but not special. The voice acting as a whole is lacklustre, rarely reaching even the middling standard set by the script. The warden is overly dramatic and ultimately hammy, while the psychologist comes across slightly less grating but still not particularly good.
Magnetic: Cage Closed is easy to dismiss as an inferior Portal clone. And, in many ways, it is just this – an inferior Portal clone. But this feeling comes from the barebones approach Guru Games executed this project with. It’s not neat, it’s not polished, it’s not shiny. In many ways, it’s not even innovative. But not all ways – and Magnetic has innovation where it counts. The puzzle game at Magnetic’s core is interesting and entertaining, with its well-crafted difficulty curve encompassing its elegantly formed puzzles. If you can ignore the clichéd setting and writing, and the raw, unpolished surface, you will find yourself sinking into some interesting and clever puzzles that feel fresh and organic to solve.
A copy of Magnetic: Cage Closed was provided for review purposes