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E3 2013: Magrunner (Hands-On)

Posted by: Chuck at 6/14/2013 10:06 PM
I'm not saying that Magrunner is borrowing a lot from the Portal games but both games features people being tested in an overly elaborate testing facility.  Both feature physics based puzzles based on something the user holds.  And both games have a third act that differs dramatically from the first. 
 
That said the premise of the games are very different.  In Magrunner you play Dax, one of seven "magrunners" who are competing to join MagTech's space training program.  The game has a weird Hunger Games/Running Man vibe to it as you are interviewed by media  between each puzzle and there's talk of corporate sponsorship and what not.  The sound on my headset was a bit intermittent but that's what I caught from the bits of dialogue I could make out.
 
The key puzzle solving mechanism for Magrunner is that you can flip the polarity of items between two states (positive  and negative).  Things that are both positive or both negative attract each other while items of opposite polarities will repel each other.  There's a neutral state as well but it didn't seem to come into play into the first few puzzles I played through.
 
To see how it works, here's one of the early puzzles which requires you to get to a platform that you can't reach by jumping.  To get there you stack two cubes in front of it and then charge both of them to the same polarity and then jump on the top cube.  Once you're up on the cubes you flip the polarity of the top cube and you're pushed up to a place where you can easily get where you want to go.  As you would expect the puzzles get more complex the puzzles get more complex.
 
What you might not expect is that the game goes Lovecraftian with a science fiction twist in the later levels.  I didn't get that far but looking at the screenshots below you can see that that games tone shifts from the sanitary white world of the tests to something darker later on in the game.
 
I did enjoy what I played although I wish they had skipped the obnoxious elevator segments that transport you between levels and hide the fact that the game is loading stuff in the background.  They do cover it with the press interviews and what not but I'm wondering why the entire game can't be streamed a bit better.  Either way the game is coming out later this month and we should have our review of the full game shortly after it's available.