Magnetic: Cage Closed is a first-person physics-based puzzle game set within a grimy prison that harbours a dark and sinister secret in the basement. The player takes on the role of Rachel Randall (better known throughout proceedings as Prisoner XE-47623), an inmate on death row, as she is escorted on a gurney into the lower levels of the prison. Here, it's revealed that the jail houses an experimental weapons program in the basement and the Warden has been using inmates as guinea pigs. XE-47623 is offered a choice - proceed into the test area to become the latest subject, or be gassed to death.
This early decision is the moment where Magnetic offers players a promise of a game that will not pull its punches. We were delighted to discover that you could actually just stand there and wait out the allotted one minute that the Warden gives you to decide. We won't spoil what happens if you make this choice, suffice to say that it made us laugh out loud and prepared us to offer Magnetic a whole heap of respect, if the developer could continue to keep that level of uncompromising challenge and immersion going.
Through the introductory chapter, we are introduced to our weapon of choice - the magnet gun. The controls are simple enough - pull boxes towards you with LT and repel them with RT. You can also adjust the strength of the magnetism using the bumpers. The puzzles themselves are room-based. You enter a test chamber by crawling through a small metallic vent which not-so-subtly fails to mask a loading screen and the goal is to find your way out by manipulating metal blocks of various sizes, pushing buttons and avoiding traps. The premise of the game is innovative enough to be intriguing and to coax the player through the first set of puzzles.
The puzzles themselves are set out in clever ways. It may not be immediately apparent when you enter a chamber as to what the way out is, but there is usually a set way in which the puzzle unfolds and they are never too taxing to work out. The frustration comes in the form of deadly traps, such as spike pits, fire bursts and chlorine gas. If you die in a test chamber, you immediately respawn at the beginning of it, which is a lot less brutal than the punishment we had envisioned after our earlier disobedience, but can become an annoyance in larger chambers when you are almost at the exit. Still, it's brutal and uncompromising, which is undoubtedly sure to polarise player opinion. If you get easily frustrated with platforming, this might not be the game for you
The environments are gorgeous to look at, mastering dark and grimy in the same way that Portal's labs were light and sterile. This is an environment that is deadly and while the traps are almost lovingly erected, it is obvious that the chambers have been well used. Blood splatters and graffiti hint at some of the past inmates who tried and failed to make it through and the orange lighting is subtle enough to make the environment feel claustrophobic. This and the design of magnet gun are probably the most impressive thing about Magnetic: Cage Closed. Cobbled together and far too large for purpose, the magnet gun makes a fitting prototype which we are shown to be a work in progress during a few, rather well-placed scenes. The gun itself works as stated the majority of the time but there is some very noticeable juddering when you carry or try to quickly shift between attracting and repelling a block that is probably not supposed to be there.
The game is not just an endless route of puzzle-filled chambers, though it may feel that way at times. There is a narrative running through, as XE-47623 is led further and further into the experiment. There are some seemingly moral choices to be made which appear to affect the order in which the player encounters tests in the next sector. These choices make a nice change from the gruelling chambers but ultimately seem to have no real affect on the story itself, save for a few dialogue changes. The game's antagonists speak to the player over the intercom, to encourage and deride the progress that the player has made while giving hints about what is happening beyond the chambers. The voice acting is well done, if a little heavy-handed. We got that the co-conspirators behind the whole thing are obviously sadistic right at the start of the game, given that they enjoy watching prisoner after prisoner fall victim to their traps, so the emphatically evil tones in which a lot of the lines are delivered seem like overkill. We couldn't help but feel that a little subtlety here would have gone a long way to stop the villains from becoming a caricature that we ultimately felt nothing for.
The story itself also lacks the pacing to make it truly engrossing. The earlier stages, where the player is working their way through puzzle-room after puzzle-room begin to feel a little bit more like a chore than they should. The puzzles themselves are engaging and getting through a chamber on your first try feels rewarding but there doesn't seem to be a real sense of enjoyment in the experience. It wasn't until the middle chapter, when the game abruptly opens up, that we felt genuinely excited about anything, as we didn't know what might be around the next corner. Sadly, this scenario was only temporary and we were thrown back into the rinse-repeat pattern of puzzling our way through test chambers again. The latter stages have some truly tricky puzzles but this is only due to them relying upon skills that you probably didn't feel the need to master before then and can quickly become frustrating, hindering your progress.
The ending comes down to a binary choice. Again, we will not spoil this for you but the twist is not as original as it wants to be and ultimately has very little impact. It's left up to the player to decide how they want to handle the outcome but after a long time grinding through the final chapter, it's disappointing to say that we simply did not care and wanted to be out of there. For a game that is decidedly much more adult and more seriously themed than some of its counterparts - Portal for instance - it regrettably falls flat, which is a great shame as it promised so much in its opening moments. Still, there's enough here to make it enjoyable for a one-off play through. Although there are different choices and branching paths, it is most likely that only hardcore puzzle and platforming players will want to step into the test chambers for another round.
A Time Trial mode is also available for players who might wish to pit themselves against the clock in chambers that are literally ripped from the main story and designed to cater to a certain game mechanic. The tests start off very simply - pushing and pulling a box onto a big button in the middle of the room - and progress in difficulty but there's no real reward for completing them in the fastest time and the lack of a leaderboard here seems like such a huge oversight. It's an amusing diversion from the main campaign but ultimately - as with too many other things in Magnetic: Cage Closed - it fails to deliver on its basic premise.
A puzzle-filled platformer that doesn't quite deliver on its intriguing opening segment, Magnetic: Cage Closed boasts a unique premise but is often brutal in the wrong ways. Definitely not a game for everybody, hardcore fans of platforming games will enjoy it but the casual player will likely get too frustrated to finish the harder test chambers. The story is far from engrossing but clever enough to have some great moments. All in all, the game is a novel way to pass an afternoon but is unlikely to have you clamouring for more.