In most modern first-person adventures, you start out with a pre-made character and are tasked with facing up against pre-made creatures created by the game designers, the same game designers who have scripted out every beat of your pre-made adventure. The order in which plot points are revealed may differ from player to player, but for the most part you all follow the same story line to its ultimate conclusion. However, what if there was a game that turned that formula on its head and allowed you, the gamer, to choose which allies and enemies had what abilities while allowing you to craft the gaming landscape to your personal liking?
Most of the game looks like a graphic novel which helps to add a certain amount of atmosphere.
From Question Games, a small game studio in San Francisco, CA made up of four developers whose resumes include games like Bioshock, South Park: The Stick of Truth, Dishonored 1, Deus Ex 2 and Thief: Deadly Shadows, comes The Magic Circle. In this meta first-person fantasy game, you are a tester tasked with working on a massively multiplayer fantasy world that’s been in development for over a decade. You have to complete the troubled game-within-a-game and get it on store shelves. There is a mysterious disembodied voice that will guide you and will help you to seize the tools of game development from the forces that are working against you so that you can uncover more of the darkly comic story, hopefully helping you to finish the game.
Gameplay in The Magic Circle takes place in typical first-person fashion, where you can only see the hands of the player’s character. You can walk, run and jump your way around the environments, which do a good job of seeming to be open, sandbox type environments but are really just linear trails that take you from point A to point B. As you make your way through the game, you will inherit abilities such as the power to trap enemies and rewrite their underlying code structure so that they become allies. You can control how they move, how they fight and what their special abilities are. Having total control over every other creature in the game allows for some interesting game mechanics; you can strip the abilities from one type of creature and give it to a totally unrelated type of creature in order to sole puzzles and defeat traps.
Other areas look mainly like this. The poorly pixilated design really takes away from the gameplay.
The visuals in The Magic Circle are definitely unique, but still left a lot to be desired in the end. The visuals – right from the start – felt dated and not very inspired. When I say dated, I mean from a time when games ran in DOS. If you know what DOS is, then you know that that was quite some time ago. While I often felt that the visuals were intentionally created in this manner, it just really distracted from the underlying content and message of the game. Many areas are done in a pencil-drawn, black and white style that had a cool graphic novel feel to them. However, there are also many areas that are done in color that are poorly pixelated that felt uninspired and somewhat lazy. I had a hard time trying to reconcile the two different styles of art and ultimately it was very distracting of the gameplay.
Every creature that you come across can be trapped and have their code rewritten to serve your bidding.
I will give props to the Question team, however, as it pertains to the writing in The Magic Circle. It is humorous and the style in which the characters play off of each other made the game feel unique and out of the ordinary. The voice cast is superb; I got the feeling that they really had a good grasp of just what the gamer is supposed to be feeling at various parts of the adventure. In addition, the sound effects and the music seemed spot on and fit the many different fantasy/sci-fi areas of the game. While you don’t see many games on the market that attempt to mix these two genres, I have to give the Question team high marks for the effort that they put forth in that regard.
The disembodied voice that assists you will usually appear has a stone head as he guides you on your journey.
Giving the player the ability to manipulate the other characters in the world in ways that alter their behavior in-game is something that I have never seen in a game before. However, I was taken aback somewhat that the way that this game looks came from people who worked on some of the most lauded games of the last decade. I know that they could have done better and it just felt that this game was phoned in as far as the visuals are concerned. The Magic Circle is available now on Steam for $19.99, however, I think that is a little steep, humorous dialogue aside, for what this game has to offer gameplay-wise. I would recommend that you wait until this one goes on sale before jumping in or at least give the demo a try first because honestly, there are other games that your twenty dollars and time would be better spent on at the moment.
Ambitious idea but falls short
Challenge - 3/10
Gameplay - 4/10
Design - 5/10
+ Humorous dialogue
+ Music is pretty good
+ Premise is very original
- Visuals are severely lacking
- Not enough substantive gameplay