When you think of Cthulhu, there’s an endless number of associations you might make. Tentacles, giant monster, space, overall badassery perhaps, but never magnets. 3 AM Games’ Magrunner: Dark Pulse wants you to think otherwise.
The most obvious frame of reference to describe a game like Magrunner: Dark Pulse would have to be Portal. The idea is very similar: a first-person puzzler in which the protagonist is equipped with a physics-defying, non-offensive gun. The main difference being that the gun in Dark Pulse shoots magnetic charges. The game is centered on a relationship between red and green charges. You’re given the option to change them if you hate color schemes that remind you of Christmas. Red attracts red, green attracts green, and they repel each other. Your goal is to solve a puzzle in every distinct room in order to move forward. The gun serves only to charge objects already in the environment, so you also have to get creative with how you arrange things in each level.
So, what exactly does Magrunner mean, anyway? Well, this is answered at the very beginning of the game when you find out the main character, Dax, is part of a group of highly skilled, athletic individuals chosen by a corporation to be a Magrunner — which is essentially a deep space explorer. From there, the story progresses to uncover secrets about the corporation and you eventually find out Cthulhu is somehow wrapped up in all of it. The story is one of the less appealing aspects of the game. Predictable plot twists and sometimes melodramatic voice acting made it more difficult to relate to and care about the characters. From a narrative standpoint, Dark Pulse can be surprisingly underwhelming considering that it has to compete with the likes of Portal. Where Dark Pulse really shines is in its gameplay.
3 AM Games made sure that every room in Dark Pulse would be a markedly different experience, and that every challenge would take thought and consideration. The introduction of new types of objects and mechanics is always smooth, and a lot of the solutions are intuitive. There is also a certain degree of platforming and timing required for some of the solutions, which presented a different type of challenge . You’re eventually even given a small, robotic, canine companion that carries his own charges. Fittingly, your magnetic little friend is named Newton. Newton can be placed on any flat surface by shooting the respective charge from your gun, and he is essential to many of the solutions in the game. Issues arise when you miss a shot intended for an object and place Newton somewhere you didn’t mean to, thus potentially ruining the placement of other objects with his magnetic field.
It’s always important to note that, to some degree, puzzle games are meant to be frustrating. In spite of that, certain aspects of Dark Pulse led to frustration that didn’t have much to do with the difficulty of the actual puzzles. The difficulty of the chambers would oftentimes jump drastically and then decline inexplicably. The game did not get gradually more difficult, it tended to bounce around between the very easy and the mind boggling. This isn’t to say that it was ever impossible, it was just a bit uncomfortable to be faced with difficulties at the very beginning when you are trying to get a hang of the basic mechanics.
Toward the end of the game, enemies are introduced. While they did represent yet another challenge that made the game that much more interesting, they seemed like more of an afterthought. The enemies basically chase you and whack you until you’re dead, which felt more like an annoyance rather than an actual obstacle given the typically non-aggressive nature of puzzle games.
Magrunner: Dark Pulse is definitely a game I would recommend to anyone that enjoys challenging their mind. It is flawed at times, but the interesting mechanics coupled with the distinct challenges throughout the course of the game made it a good experience overall.