The Magic Circle: Gold Edition PS4 Review
Publisher: Question Developer: Question Genre: Sandbox Players: 1
Age Rating: 16+ Other console/handheld formats: N/A
The Magic Circle certainly threw me for a loop, and upon beginning the game I really had no idea what to think. It’s a game that made me experience a plethora of emotions, from confused to clever to bored at times. The story goes that you are inside a game – The Magic Circle – that has been stuck in development hell for the last 20 years, with the creators now feuding about what to do, all coming up with their own ideas about which direction to take the game. With the help of a guide known as Old Pro, you are given the tools needed to complete the game yourself, and what follows is something unlike any other game I have experienced before.
The Magic Circle begins quite linearly as it allows you to get used to the controls, and it is enjoyable seeing the game change before your eyes, with any other character in the game represented by a literal floating eye hovering in the sky above you, discussing what they want to do and making changes to the environment before you. Seeing them eyeing you up has a certain sense of intimidation as you don’t know what they might do next; you find a sword shortly after starting the game, but during one scene it is promptly taken away, and then a bit later you find yourself up against enemies, and it certainly instills a sense of panic as you worry about what to do without any form of defense – then it turns out you needed to die, with one of the characters then explaining what should or shouldn’t have happened. It’s a great game that messes you about no end, and really makes you feel as though you are inside the game and watching as the outside influences your environment.
You follow a set path at first, with some areas that you can veer off in to explore, but mostly the beginning is there to set up the story and allow you to get used to the controls, though, admittedly, it took me a tad longer than that for my brain to gauge what to do. The control scheme can only be described as smart though at one point I was so confused I had no idea what to do next and was trudging about, retracing my steps for a good half hour to an hour, and felt defeated when I resorted to watching a YouTube walkthrough until I got bored of that and decided to try on my own again; thankfully I hadn’t watched many spoilers. I did eventually come to realise what I needed to do, and then after a while of feeling so stupid that I couldn’t work out what to do, I began to feel clever as I realised that everything in the environment is there for you to use in some way; I just needed to connect the dots.
The Magic Circle is played from a First Person perspective and you are an unnamed hero. The game takes place in an environment that has two distinct graphical types, the first being reminiscent of such games as Neverending Nightmares, where the graphics look as though they have been scrawled with a biro, and the second being a pixelated sci-fi setting. The biro-like graphics certainly add to that unfinished look of the game that the creators are working on, and the pixelated area gives a sense of just how long the creators have been working on the game. Your job is to traverse the world and the clever part comes into play when you can ‘hack’ into and manipulate your environment; the main hero has the ability to take ‘Life’ and then can fill an area on screen to give it life. So if there is an area that looks ‘glitchy’ – known in the game as ‘ghosted’, an area that has been previously deleted – chances are you can fill that area with life, giving it colour and bringing it back into existence. This can be used in some way to help you progress, be it a bridge for you to cross, to an item that can be used.
There are enemies in the game and this is where it gets very clever; you can use Life to trap an enemy in a type of black hole, and then can hack into and edit that enemy, and there is various things here that you can do. You can take all of an enemies abilities, choose if they move about or stand immobile, choose whether they can be picked up or not and can even set who its enemies are, and who its allies are. Most likely for the enemies you’ll be changing them to allies, and whilst the game throws many enemies at you, you don’t need a huge army to succeed. You can also assign an ability to an enemy that has come from another foe, and this makes for some interesting combinations; The Magic Circle gives you the freedom to mess about with enemies any way you like and it’s fun giving them different abilities and watching their characteristics change, and this allows you to solve situations in multiple ways. You can even give life to inanimate objects you may find, such as mushrooms, a teleporter or a key, and it is certainly strange seeing items come to life that you wouldn’t normally consider as ‘living’.
So with this control set-up, it certainly sounds confusing and, for a good while, I was confused and it did leave me wandering aimlessly around for ages. I would walk to one area, look around and wonder what on earth I needed to do, and would try anything I could do with what I had at my disposal, then I would walk elsewhere and would think and do the same thing, possibly even dying in the process; the game is very much about trial and error as you get to grips with its unique control scheme. I then started to actually use my brain and after what seemed like ages, I finally worked out that I needed to use the enemies and the abilities to my advantage and suddenly everything became a lot more simplified; I finally started to see the good in the game and was thankful I didn’t give up on it, as I was so close to doing. The game was easy to complete once I understood what I needed to do, though The Magic Circle does throw you a curve ball near the end that I was not expecting, and certainly added some much needed variety to the gameplay.
The story itself is interesting though, amongst all of the confusion, I must admit that I didn’t take it all in right away, though do understand that it is a satirical dig about the gaming industry or some such lark. A lot of other reviewers have said the story has some dark humour and whilst there is some swearing and sexual references, there’s nothing that would deem it a dark comedy, even though it is stated by the developers themselves; they must have a weird definition of ‘dark comedy’. Some lines gave me a chuckle and the Old Pro is certainly amusing in his delivery, but there’s not much in the way of comedy here that gave me a laugh or made me think it was pushing boundaries. The voice acting is excellent and helps to bring the characters alive and, even though none of them are particularly likeable, it can be justified by the fact that these people have been working on a game for 20 years and so it is expected that they would have become rather jaded at this point. A young fan of the original game comes along to try and help them to finish their current project 20 years in the making and with her introduction, the game is not only taking digs at developers, but also devoted, over-zealous fans.
The Magic Circle has certainly surprised me and throws up many original ideas that make for a refreshing change to how you play. It may take some players a bit of time to become absorbed in the gameplay as the control scheme is different to what they may be used to, though once you understand how things work the game is relatively easy to play with a very creative ending. The entirety of The Magic Circle can only be described as creative, and it is a sign of good development when a game can cause so many emotions and you can tell a lot of effort has gone into the making of this game. It is by every definition original, and if you are looking for something different then this is certainly one to try.