Let me start by getting one thing out the way from the beginning – it is going to be hard for me to write this review without mentioning Portal, and by association Half-Life. From the minute the game starts and your situation is explained via voice over, to the cheeky nod given to the Interlude title (Push and Pull – “A piece of Cake”) or even the mute female protagonist you play, it is hard to ignore that Magnetic Cage Closed has drawn inspiration from one of the greatest game franchises of the last generation, and that is definitely not a bad thing.
Playing as the unnamed prisoner XE-47623, you find yourself in the ominous sounding Facility 7, a place owned and operated by the Curiatis Corporation, under the stewardship of Warden Keene. Naturally you are a death row prisoner, and in the opening few minutes your predicament is explained – either play along, and solve the puzzles you are presented with, and should you survive your sentence expunged, or the second option being death, either right there in the cell via chlorine gas, or by failing to solve the numerous puzzles, and carry out your death sentence iby proxy, none of which being lethal injection. All this is explained within the opening beats of the game, moving through simple chambers as the story plays out via voice over – first Warden Keene, and then the prison psychologist Karen Womberg, and this serves as a good introduction to the world you now inhabit.
Controlling prisoner XE-47623 is smooth, and the first person camera does a good job of filling you in as you move from room to room. As already I mentioned, parallels with Portal are easy to pick up on, from the disembodied voice over acting to help advance the story as narrator to the very predicament you find yourself in, moving from room to room and solving puzzles, but the game (and more appropriately it’s developers) know this, and they have fun with it so as to ensure Magnetic Cage Closed doesn’t feel like a rip of, but more a homage that does stand up as a game all in and of itself to a certain degree. Even the puzzles, which require you to manipulate objects by attracting or repelling magnetic objects to hit switches and manipulate the environment around you are a times a little familiar.
The Magnet gun is fun to use, once you have got to grips with it during the initial few tutorial missions at the start. Pulling and then pushing objects is satisfying, and the power of your magnet gun can be increased by pressing the left and right bumpers, the current power of the gun being indicated by the coloured bars around the crosshair that serves to show you where you are currently aiming – blue for attract, red for repel.
The reason for this ability to shift the power output I never really understood, as I only ever seemed to want to use the full output for both pushing and pulling, or jumping to other ledges using the wall panels as a means of attraction, but the option is there should you find you need it.
The game does a good job of giving you enough information without being patronising or overly helpful, instead giving you the basics and letting you pick the rest up for yourself, something too few games seem to do nowadays, and this makes for a refreshing change.
Rattling through the game it soon becomes apparent that not all is as it seems and this too harks back to Portal, with messages left by previous prisoners scrawled on the walls hinting at something sinister afoot. For someone who loved playing both Portal games, this trope was something that I instantly recognised, and rather than take away from the experience of playing Magnetic Cage Closed they became something I would actively look for, whether they be references to things within the game itself, or slightly meta nods to Valve’s creation, and both had equal merit during my playthrough. If you have never played Portal, then these references and call outs will go sailing over your head, but you will not feel like you have missed anything in the meantime, as Magnetic Cage Closed is fun to play in it’s own right (but as an aside to that, if you have never played Portal, seriously, play Portal).
If this game had been made a decade or so earlier, this review might have gone the other way, calling out a game that is at times a blatant rip off, but it does feel as though enough time has passed in that it serves to deliver an interesting nostalgia trip for a completely different game, which is a very weird sensation. If not for Portal, Magnetic Cage Closed would be hailed as a magnificent physics puzzler, but then you do have to bear in mind that the original Portal came out nearly a decade a go.
As such Magnetic Cage Closed doesn’t really extend or elaborate too much on the original ideas that were first seen in what is nearly a ten-year old game, and that does feel like a missed opportunity, especially considering the time that has elapsed and the advances that have been made with the technology of the consoles that now reside in our homes. I did enjoy my time with Magnetic Cage Closed, and some of the physics puzzles did have me pondering for a few seconds, but the greatest feeling I came away with was the desire to play Portal again, which, in its own way, is probably one of the best kind of back-handed compliments I could possibly give.
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