Gameception! A game within-a-game, done correctly…
Game: The Magic Circle: Gold Edition
Reviewed on: PlayStation 4 (Review code provided by publisher)
The Magic Circle: Gold Edition is a first-person fantasy puzzle game with a rather sharp and dark sense of humour. The game was originally released on PC/Steam back in early July 2015 and less than a year later it is due to release on May 10th 2016 for the PlayStation 4.
You, the protagonist, don the cape of a play-tester plunged deep into the depths of an unfinished game that has been held captive in development hell for 20 years. This was caused by the in-game developers lack of funds and ever-growing, ever-changing vision.
The Magic Circle begins with you approaching a texture-less dummy wielding a sword, begging you to take up arms against whatever plight has destroyed its baron township, devoid of colour. Upon taking the sword, you are then almost instantly confronted by two out of three of the very indecisive god-like game designers Ish Gilder and Maze Evelyn in the midst argument on how best to treat you as a play-tester. It is ultimately decided by the designers that to save you from harming yourself and others around you; you will venture through the world weaponless and unable to defend yourself from the untold terrors within.
The story progresses and you are beaconed by a mysterious rogue AI known as The Old Pro, whom bestows upon you the relevant powers required to complete the unfinished game and eventually take down the notorious third designer known to the play-tester as Coda Soliz or more so aptly named the Sky Bastard…
In addition to your task of destroying the Sky Bastard – The Old Pro is depending on you to restore many features and objects that have been removed from the game by using your own life force and by completing a multitude of different puzzles ranging from simple to mind-boggling intricate. The play-testers life force can be refilled by visiting the various cracks in the world that also can be handily used as methods of fast travel from the map interface, and considering there is no way of sprinting; the fast travel system is a godsend. The map thankfully also comes in handy when attempting to find the games hidden secrets, one of which I completely missed until my third play through of The Magic Circle. There aren’t as many secrets in this game within-a-game as there are Riddler Trophies in Arkham Knight, but the ones that you do find are just as awesome.
Now obviously it was pretty mean of Ish and Maze to take away your weapon, leaving you defenseless and we can’t be having any of that nonsense now can we? The Old Pro sees your struggle and grants you the ability to tamper with the games programming. Your new-fangled abilities allow you to edit creatures and change the in-game mechanics at will to conduct your bidding. After trapping any hostile or non-hostile creature in the game, you can warp straight into its mind and edit any of its basic properties; turning them into boss-killing machines or even strip the poor guys behaviors to its bare bones to essentially leave it dormant and useless. Personally I found that the latter of those things happened a lot more often in my second and third play through as I eventually got over it because I saw the bigger picture! I’m trying to finish a game here, damn it!
What was my proudest creation, you ask? But of course none other than Rocky McRockface! Rocky wasn’t just your average Rolling Stone; He was a high flying, fireproof, laser shooting son of a gun whom stayed with me for the better part of 3-4 hours and was on the front line of creature killing duty – he was sadly scrapped for parts later on, but has secured a place in my heart forever.
Visually the game is a beautiful work in progress, made up mostly of sketches and placeholders that scream “complete me” throughout. The way that the world is designed makes you feel like it’s only just managing to hold itself together by a thread which motivated me more and gave me that push towards wanting to help finish this game and save it from development hell. There are several occasions where the player will dip in and out of vibrant, retro space themed sections of the world; providing you some variety in the hours you’ll spend playing this game within-a-game to its fullest.
There were at times a few game breaking moments where I fell through the floor into the abyss below and respawned but I believe they were fixed in the last update and some areas of the world where you could see through the walls, however I didn’t actually care enough about them as they in a silly way seemed either intentional or seemed to fit in with the whole unfinished game theme.
The Magic Circle’s rather dark and comedic story is told through the use of random encounters with The Old Pro, the three god-like overlord designers and also through the collection of changelog documents and audio files dropped and hidden within the game. There were a few moments that had me howling with laughter and I found myself actively searching for them to find out more.
Hands down, this game is absolutely brilliant! I had lost all hope in re-kindling my love for this type of game and can wholeheartedly say that The Magic Circle is a true testament to the story-driven puzzle game genre. There are only two things that stopped me from giving this game a well-earned 10/10. The first being the length of game only lasting approximately 4-5 hours depending on whether you plough through or not like I did the first time around and the second was the lack of the sprint function. There is a hell of a lot more to this game than meets the eye and for me to go into any more detail; it would honestly ruin the fun. The story is gripping and makes you think differently about the game development world and all of those games that are stuck in development hell that we just want to see released.