Walking in, I felt this game may have been standing on the shoulders of giants. However, somewhere along the line, it fell face first into a dead horse. When compared to other similar games, this one doesn’t even come close. On its own merits, this game is nowhere near the quality one would expect from a platform puzzler with some much possibility. It’s lacking a sense of identity, devoid of any quality design and simply lacks the enjoyment required to push through to the end. I had a harder time trying to think up positive things to say than I had with any of the puzzles in this boring and insufferable imitator.
WHAT WE LIKED
º The Magnet Gun is a great idea with some cool abilities.
º Characters have some dynamics, with passable voice acting.
º The game features a decent amount of puzzles.
WHAT WE DISLIKED
º The game simply isn’t fun, and lacks anything worthwhile.
º All of the puzzles are boring, underutilizing the main attraction.
º Lacks any kind of pacing in its childish and tone-deaf story.
When I walk into a film or game review, I do my best not to compare it to other games. Obviously, this game has similar gameplay to Portal, so I wanted to try and avoid comparisons. This game, however, does nothing to separate itself from one of the most recognizable PC games of all time. It’s been nearly eight years since that game was out (insert ‘getting old joke here’), so maybe it’s about time to let someone else try their hand at this “Lab-rat” genre. This might’ve not been so bad, except it rips off Valve’s masterpiece so much, that any positive or original ideas this game has is stained in crimson for feeling like a rip-off.
In the game’s completely original story, you played an unnamed female protagonist who must run from one test chamber to another. You’re instructed by cold and untrustworthy people to perform tests using a new experimental gun. You use this new weapon to place boxes on switches, in order to progress a series of exercises, where a reward has been promised.
If it sounds like I’m purposely trying to make it sound like it’s not even close to being unique- well congrats- you understand sarcasm. I thought maybe I was missing a little from the game’s design, thinking that maybe this entry was in some way trying to parody the other; in fact the introduction quotes “A piece of cake” before starting. The problem is Guru Games plays this experience very straight faced, without really making any kind of a comical or thoughtful statement. It’s as if a company made a game years after it’s already been wildly successful. The big difference is the ladder had charm and charisma, while this one feels drab and boring.
One of its difference is the storyline’s setting; you play as a prisoner who’s been taken off death row to go through a series of experiments. In these deadly trials, you must use a weapon that harnesses the polarities of a magnet, to either push, pull or project various objects, including yourself. Only once all the conditions in a room are complete are you free to progress to the next one. Considering your character is silent throughout the game, your innocence or lack thereof is up to the discretion of the player- and regardless their freedom awaits if they make it through these tests.
Despite these divergences, nothing feels original; there’s a moment where quirky music is played for no reason. There’s cryptic forewarning messages scrawled on the wall, saying things like “Watch your back” and “They won’t let you leave”. Cubes, moving platforms, and gas; this is closer to a remake than it is anything tongue-in-cheek. There’s just so many similarities, and it ends up feeling like an attempt to hit all the checkpoints from a highly successful series.
The game is even self-defacing, when it makes no sense for it to be so. At one point, Warden Keene tells you “It’s astonishing how many boxes you have managed to place on buttons in such a short amount of time. I’m sure you will be remembered as one of the best box-placers of your generation.” This may work if the character saying it is an automaton, tasked with ensuring that testing continues happening long after the collapse of the building- but this is a grown man who’s running a prison. Sure, he may be crazy, but this is a huge facility with tons of money keeping it running. There’s no need for these ‘tests’, and certainly isn’t a need to make them hazardous.
Playing with the gun is fun, and I must admit- is a great idea. It provides a fair bit of challenge, and offers some real unique solutions to the problems presented. There are tons of things that could’ve been done with the idea but it’s used primarily as a way of moving around cubes, pulling out pillars or projecting yourself to out-of-reach places. I would’ve loved to have this gun in a different environment, somewhere that didn’t feel so confined and limited.
Despite its amazing opportunities and the prospect of some amazing puzzles, the game simply feels clunky and uninspired. Blocks you’re carrying will unexpectedly fly off your gun, and lodge themselves into a wall for no apparent reason. Pushing them away yields unpredictable directions, leaving you shooting at targets more than the worst player on a little league team. I also rarely felt confident in my jumps, and with little forgiveness lying underneath, you’re bound to die at the finish line a couple times. The game sometimes requires you to move two separate boxes from a distance at the same time, and without proper controls, this left me screaming as I attempted moving them over and over. Simply put, a puzzle platformer shouldn’t force you to solve a stage with controls working against you.
The levels are boring and lack any complex design. I was never stumped by any of the puzzles, and I doubt anyone could be. They all feel squared off, and never branch out further than they could. You’ll usually see the box, the switch, and the obstacles keeping you from getting the two near each other; the only challenge being the clunky character you’ll use to get them there. After putting a block on a switch, you crawl through an impractical tunnel where the game loads the next box. At the end of each chapter, they ask you to make a decision on some arbitrary thing, that’ll either provide alternate endings or a sense of agency that isn’t there.
The graphics are just as dismal. Everything is a flat, brownish gray- completely lifeless and devoid of anything charming. The one bit of flair they threw into this game is the messages scrawled into the wall, something I think I would avoid if I didn’t want comparisons. It’s all just so painfully generic and humdrum I swore I was playing a game designed-by-numbers. You enter a new room, and it looks like the last. You enter a new room, its all got the same elements as the prior. It’s just so destructive to not include any kind of variety into your visuals. After a while, I realized it wasn’t going to get any better, and gave up any kind of hope that this game may provide something interesting to look at.
The music is charmless; a sad collection of melodramatic music you’d swear you’ve heard in a hundred other shovelware games that desperately try to sound dark and brooding. It’s not even mixed well, completely cutting off as you go from one room to the other, instead of just flowing into the next. The sound effects pop and squeak their way over the speakers, causing me to grimace anytime I went into a room with machines that shoots electricity. The main character’s grunt is the best; whenever she gets hurt it sounds like a 10-year old who got a boo-boo instead of a prisoner without a chance for parole being burned alive.
The main voice actors in the game, the Warden and a psychiatrist Karen Vomberg, do a good job- but neither seem like they had enough character to deliver a strong enough performance. The game does seem to have a mother/father dynamic intended between the two of them, with Vomberg sometimes semi-apologizing for the cruelty of the Warden. I wish we had more of this, instead we get a lot of ‘you’re obviously scum, now complete the experiment’ type dialogue that just becomes grating. This becomes painfully obvious as you sit for what feels like forever listening to them, as you’re ‘transported’ to the testing areas in a stodgy container.
As I continued playing, hearing about how these tests needed to continue, it made me question why this whole ‘testing’ thing was important. I couldn’t understand why a prison would be testing a magnet gun, why they would want prisoners testing it with deadly conditions, or what was preventing them from testing it like normal scientists. Of course, there’s a possibility that all my questions would’ve been answered if I just kept going, but after several hours, I simply could not bring myself to continue. The outcome would probably be similar to another game- one that you should spend your money on instead.