Have you ever heard of Frogwares? They’re a medium sized independent studio with branches in both Ukraine and Ireland. I’d say hands down, their most known game is Sherlock Holmes versus Arsène Lupin which, for those in Australia and United Kingdom, was simply called Sherlock Holmes: Nemesis. Still not ringing any bells? Well, I’m sure most people just wrote them off as a studio who only produce licensed adventure games. That’s at least half true since 10 of their 11 titles released are based on novels from the 1800’s but they did also release one very interesting puzzle game: Magrunner: Dark Pulse.
Magrunner, as hinted by the title, follows Dax Ward, expert Magrunner, a job that involves a lot of parkour and magnetic manipulation in order to presumably deliver items? You never really see him actually doing whatever job a Magrunner does. His story starts just as he is starting out in a competitive testing program at the Gruckezber Magtech Corporation along with other unseen contestants.
Using your Mag Glove, you have the ability to magnetise any magtech objects with either a red or a green charge. If the objects are opposite colours, they will repel each other and if they are the same colour, they attract each other. It ’s the use of magnetism that makes up the core gameplay. You’ll start out with simple scenarios like only having two stacked boxes to work with. Thanks to the power of magnetic fields, you can stand on top of the stack and give both boxes opposing charges to send yourself hurtling through the air towards those out of reach areas.
Not long after you begin, the once polished facility begins to malfunction and decay, forcing you into the abandoned areas of the Gruckezber test facility. It’s there that the game really begins as Eldritch horrors start to protrude from the walls , fossilized halfway during their attempts to cross over into Dax’s world. I never had any problems with the original facility which has a more aged look but I think it did carry over some of the Unreal Engine 3’s weaknesses. There’s plenty of destruction on display but rather than feeling like some large entity destroyed each room, it just feels overly designed with almost everything being ruined and metal plates being too reflective. It’s only a minor drawback though.
Once you reach the second setting, that’s when the difficulty peaks but also where the game hits its slow point. The puzzles are fine and genuinely make you think but there ’s too many of them. The whole time you’re getting more and more excited to see Cthulhu himself but it’s just one room after another and you start thinking maybe you’ll never see him. All it needed was to swap out some of those puzzle rooms with more of that sweet, sweet cosmic horror.
Don’t fret though because if you do stick around, you ’ll finally end up in Lovecraft territory where you’ll be combining all the mechanics you’ve learnt so far to pursue Cthulhu through a strange mix of magtech and floating rock. The art team did a pretty good job of portraying space hell which has some very nice skyboxes that you can sit and stare at. As a non-combative game though, most of your space hell encounters are either fleeing or just observing the horrors on display.
It may disappoint some that you won ’t get to battle any of the Great Old Ones themselves but if you think about it, you can’t really expect to put up a fight with magnets alone. The ending act did feel a bit rushed, basically leaving most of the side characters behind, but the story was pretty thin as it is. Oooh, I can’t forgot to mention atmosphere too. The blend of horror and puzzling works quite well. You ’ll be messing around with some platforms when there is a distant screech or bang which really gets you going because there’s nowhere to hide.
So, that’s basically Magrunner. There’s some pacing issues during the middle section of the game and I ’d like to have seen more Lovecraft designs but I wasn’t disappointed with what we did get. The story started fine then basically just ceased to exist, with a transmissions every few levels or so, half of which were just screaming in terror at the abominations presumably roaming around the upper floors of the facility. All in all though, it plays out as well as I would expect from what is basically “Portal but with H.P. Lovecraft, an underbaked story and magnets”. It seems that the developers are also working on title based on Call of Cthulhu, the novel first featuring the creature, so hopefully we get to see even more cosmic horrors. I’d rank Magrunner as Frogware’s second spookiest game thus far.