Magnetic: Cage Closed Electrifies the First Person Puzzle Genre – Hands-On Preview from PAX South 2015
The first time you see Magnetic: Cage Closed being played you will probably have the same thought as many other gamers. In fact, looking at the screenshots on this page, you’re probably thinking it already. “That looks a lot like Portal.” The comparison is certainly fitting, in fact the developers are well aware of the similarities between Valve’s masterpiece and their own entry in the first person puzzle genre. However, once you get a chance to play the game the similarities begin to fade away as you realize the direction that Guru Games has taken with the game, creating their own area to work within the genre that Portal revolutionized.
Taking place in an alternate universe Cold War era world, Magnetic immediately distinguishes itself from other games in its aesthetic design and world building. Playing as a death row convict who is being put through various scientific and psychological tests, you are essentially not human anymore even by the time the game has begun. Life means less in this world for some reason, and it will be up to you to survive the onslaught of tricks and traps thrown your way if you want to make it out alive.
Luckily you will have the right tool for the job with the game’s main mechanic, the Magnet Gun. This gun allows the player to project electromagnetic fields with either a positive or negative charge. This is yet another area of similarity and differentiation with Portal. You’ll be using a specially powered gun to solve puzzles and navigate the labyrinth of the game’s world, but the entire way it is used, and the thinking you will have to do around the mechanic are entirely different.
At its core, the Magnet Gun controls the magnetic polarity and energy of objects. You can push or pull certain objects, like the many boxes you’ll use to solve the game’s various puzzles. But you can also alter the polarity of fixed objects, like metallic pads that can then be used in many different ways. Need to get to a high ledge? Easy, just stand on the pad and force it to repel you, pushing you skyward. Need to get across an especially large gap? Jump and let the pad draw you in with its magnetic energy. See a switch you need to hit across a dangerous area? Fling the magnetically charged box its way and move on. One important aspect of the gameplay is that, while you alter objects quite frequently, if they are heavier than you are then it’s really them affecting you. As you push a large block across the floor, it also pushes you backward, sometimes causing you to fall into a trap. You’ll have to utilize the environment and your various skills in order to get through the many chambers contained in Magnetic: Cage Closed.
You’ll have to utilize the environment and your various skills in order to get through the many chambers contained in Magnetic: Cage Closed.
Reading it might make it seem simple to understand, but it is a complete reworking of the logic you’ve become accustom to in other first person puzzle games. This is further compounded by the fact that the gun doesn’t just fire a straight shot of magnetic energy at your target. Instead the team studied how energy waves work and incorporated it into the game, with a few adjustments for playability. The electromagnetic fields you create with the gun are a tiny bit unpredictable, but they feel totally natural.
A few times during my demo I messed something up because my shot was hitting more things than I intended. This helped create a more challenging and thought provoking session since I had to actually think about how I was solving the puzzle, and where I placed every object involved. It also created a very fluid experience as boxes would fly through the air in a realistic and interesting manner, then return to my gun at my beckoning. Once I got the hang of it, the feeling was truly unlike anything else I’ve had in a game.
The puzzles themselves look to be quite challenging if this demo is anything to go by. Figuring out the many ways to use the Magnet Gun and the objects that it can interact with took some time getting used to. Once I became more familiar with the mechanics it was a breeze running and jumping, firing boxes across the map and hitting the switch dead-on. But, as soon as I got too comfortable Magnetic: Cage Closed threw me a curveball and made me realize just how tough this game could end up being.
On top this fun and deeply satisfying gameplay the team at Guru Games has thrown in some elements that help distinguish it even further from the competition. Portal was a fantastic game, but once you finished it there was little to no reason to revisit again. Magnetic: Cage Closed is the polar opposite of this, featuring a branching storyline, multiple endings, and a heavy focus on player agency within the puzzles. Many puzzles in the game can be solved in multiple different ways, many of which have surprised the game’s designer, such as the man who solved a particularly difficult puzzle in a new way as he watched.
Choices also factors into the story of Magnetic: Cage Closed, as certain moments will offer the player options for how to proceed. The demo that I played put me in a room surrounded by chambers. The chambers had mannequins in them, some of which were standing on a switch, while others were not. I was then presented with a similar switch and told to either press it or not. I chose not to press the switch, which caused my chamber to shift its location among the maze-like structure, a definite reference to the movie Cube. This choice apparently will reshape the rest of the game in certain ways, and there are more as the game goes on.
Replayability is a main goal for the team working on Magnetic: Cage Closed, and they seem to have thrown in a ton of it. They also hope that the game will become popular with speedrunners, offering them a few features specifically dedicated to their particular needs. Quicker methods of solving puzzles are one thing, but the team also hopes to include speedrunner tracks, which put the player through a preset number and variety of levels, keeping the playing field level and making sure that completion times are comparable.
Magnetic: Cage Closed looks like a great new entry in the woefully underutilized first person puzzle genre. It unique atmosphere and story complement the gameplay nicely, while creating an interesting world for gamers to explore. We’ll be sure to keep an eye on it as it gets closer to release on PC, PS4, and Xbox One in March 2015.