When I’m not busy critiquing games, I spend my time working on getting to grips with the Unreal 4 engine. My reasons are twofold, to better understand the technical aspects of video games and of course, to make one myself. So a narrative adventure set within a videogame under development should be right up my street. One such game is Question’s, The Magic Circle: Gold Edition produced and directed by a talented team of three. With games such as the Bioshock trilogy, Dishonoured and South Park: The Stick of Truth on their resumes, I was more than a little intrigued. The Gold Edition is designed specifically for the console experience with a series of graphical improvements.
You start the game as yourself, which is beautifully indicated by having your online ID typed on the screen. You have been enrolled as a QA tester for TMC Games to check for bugs and glitches before an E4 presentation. Soon, you become embroiled in a story behind the scenes of development full of conflicting egos, corporate greed and espionage. Right from the start it had many laugh out loud moments, which is testament to an engaging and enjoyable script. Though clearly an embellished dramatisation of reality, it was entertaining, which is the important part. The art style is reminiscent of black and white sketch work crossed with 90’s pixilated full colour environments similar to those seen in the original Doom.
There are cracks within the fabric of this virtual reality that you can absorb ‘Life’ from. This is the essence of the video game and all that exists within it. You have the ability to use it to trap enemies and objects so you can dive into their code. Of course, this is a far more simplified version of coding for the average player with no experience of game development. Though, the basic principles are there, like true or false gates and sprites behaviour rules. This is where things get interesting because you can take and store these attributes. These can be used to rewrite captured objects and creatures behaviours, making them your ally gets them to work for you. As you can’t physically attack anything yourself your hoard becomes your weapon. Every model you can alter shows a change in their appearance. Make them fly and they become a helicopter, give them flame burst and they visibly spout fire. Half the fun is just spending time trying to find new abilities and experimenting on your gradually increasing entourage of pets. You can upgrade your converted allies, though, I never really had any reason to.
There are many areas that require lateral puzzle solving in order to progress the story and gain access to new abilities for your minions. You also have another ability at your disposal that you activate simply by dying. This re-spawns you as a ghost at the most recent ‘Life’ well, these also double as an autosave and a fast travel point. In ghost form you are immune to environmental hazards, you can also identify and interact with other ghost objects. These are parts of the game that have been deleted yet left a digital footprint. Once you have seen them you can then fill them with ‘Life’ to bring back sections of the level or useful objects. This allows you to create pathways through otherwise impassible areas.
Later in the game things take a distinctly sharp turn and you end up in a simulation of a game design suite. Using a ‘life’ meter acquired from finding unique abilities, sprites and other collectables, you get to build a video game level. You will be using enemy types you’ve captured and equipping them with the various abilities you’ve discovered. This encourages you to replay to find everything the initial world has to offer in order to put them into this project. You can add storyline and pick ups like health and treasure. You will then be critiqued on your game and given a score out of ten which is decided mainly by the amount of variety you’ve built into it.
I have to admit there’s nothing I like more than sitting down to a narrative adventure game on a lazy day. It’s become my gaming equivalent of reading a book with a nice cuppa. This was like some kind of videogame-ception, a game, within game, within a game. There are some sluggish and unintentional yet, not game breaking glitches and tearing. I was shocked with how abruptly it ended as the game didn’t take me more than a few hours to beat. There are some great ideas here and it left me wanting more. There’s nothing quite like creating your own customised army of minions to fight for you. Using them as a means to access otherwise inaccessible areas is also pretty cool. There’s real flexibility to how you approach challenges and there seems to be no wrong way as long as what you’re doing works. I forced my way through some parts, it was only when returning later I realised there was another and often simpler way to do it. This is a truly unique experience with a narrative deserving of the accolades it’s received. The Magic Circle: Gold Edition is an enchanting game with some fresh concepts that I would like to see more of in this genre.
REVIEW CODE: A complimentary Sony Playstation 4 code was provided to Bonus Stage for this review. Please send all review code enquiries to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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