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The Magic Circle Review

The Magic Circle Review

For the most part, there is a vacuum between developers’ experiences and videogames that fails to tie in any personal stories between them. There are a bunch of recognised auteurs, naturally, but their print is more of a tonal one, without stories that directly relate to their lives. The Magic Circle, however, has a very clear parallel between the events in-game and the developers’ lives. As a matter of fact, it could not be any other way, as this is a game about games, and the creative and production process behind the scenes.

The Magic Circle is set in an unfinished videogame, which you, as a QA tester, are meant to complete. Right off the bat it creates an entire universe governed by developer-gods and inhabitant-NPCs, that manages to make out of this collapsed project a live and organic world. In fact, this very idea is the inspiration for its title. ‘The Magic Circle’ is a concept developed by cultural historian Johan Huizinga, and defined that self-contained existence that bounds and gives life to the universe comprised in a game or in an art piece, like a book, or a film. The Magic Circle makes the audience empathise with the characters of a piece, as it virtualises their presence and experiences. We feel for them because even though we’re aware of the fantasy, they exist in the short time we immerse ourselves in that world.

jpgAs you arrive at the world of The Magic Circle, you will realise that it is still under development. Developers, who are deemed as gods inside the game, fight a constant battle among themselves to decide on the nature of the universe. These developers are people, though, and it is remarkable that their omniscient conversations are surprisingly genuine, covering many of the struggles developers may find when crafting a game. For example, the tension between gameplay and narrative is presented early on, with a developer’s insistence on adding fighting to the game, despite the story not being able to have players whacking away at everything they find, as it’s about a hero, not a murderer. So the player finds themselves in the middle of all these creative struggles, and has to deal with a world that riddled with absurdity.

In The Magic Circle, the enemies you find are stylistically disparate, as if designed for different games. Everything lacks polished textures or colour, and there is no sense of direction to this world. It’d be a stretch to say that it is believable. But this world is, with all its oddities and nonsensicality, alive, thanks to the narrative that binds all elements together. This incongruity is not accidental, but intentional, meant to resonate with the idea that the game was never finished. Despite this game being an empty shell, the player dives in like any other game, succumbing to its rules with no reproach.

The game allows the player to hack into NPCs’ behaviours and skills, and use them to their advantage. You can’t attack in this game, but the enemies that you hack to become your allies can. The game carries over the struggles of game development and gives them to the player. By toying around with these NPCs’ behaviours, the player is able to advance throughout the world, and make the most of these inconsistencies. The sanctity of the game is challenged through the possibility of shaping it at will – to a certain extent. If the player dies, they can also use elements of the game that had been previously deleted, like switches or bridges. Not only does all this show an incomplete world stuck in development hell, but it also puts the player amid the same contestations of ideas that led the game there in the first place.

943148The Magic Circle focuses on a very particular event – the manufacturing of a game. The lack of relatable events does hold it back at times, as for the average gamer the development phase is completely alien, and they’re more concerned with the experience of playing. And for the most part of the game – excluding the very final bit – this experience is bizarre, but not disappointing. The fact that it assimilates the making of a game more than the playing stresses out the idea that its target audience are those players with aspirations or interests in game development; but in the chain of operations behind it, rather than the artistic and thematic inspiration of a game.

The series of puzzles devised for the player to solve are not designed around a solution, but rather, the developers assume that the tools given are going to be enough to progress. So it’s interesting that there is a myriad of solutions, but each piece of the puzzle is found in vastly distant parts of the world, which makes coming up with any of these solutions personal and organic. And there’s always the sense that you ‘cheated’ your way out of the puzzle. This type of out-of-the-box thinking is encouraged throughout: for instance, you will be rewarded with content if you’re one of those bold players that loves to climb up the rugged walls at the edge of a map in an attempt to push its boundaries.

The Magic Circle creates a bridge between the development and the playing of the game, and is able to connect creators and consumers, if only momentarily, and put them in the same page. It is designed to give consumers a taste of the development through its story and mechanics. From the perspective of a consumer, games launch them into fantastic magic circles through development. The Magic Circle tries to do the opposite, and while it manages to genuinely say something about our media, the fact that it’s aimed at its consumers makes it unable to shake off its apologetic message. In an industry confused by trends and numbers, and where decisions are taken by out-of-touch people, The Magic Circle gives us a bit of insight into this mess. “I’m sorry for the fuck-ups; we tried, but it wasn’t our fault”.

6.50/10 6½

The Magic Circle (Reviewed on PlayStation 4)

Game is enjoyable, outweighing the issues there may be.

Although its mechanics are not upbeat enough to have you engaged for hours at a time, the story is interesting enough to say something, however niche this message is.

This game was supplied by the publisher or relevant PR company for the purposes of review
Borja Vilar Martos

Borja Vilar Martos

Staff Writer

Jammy since birth, not so much in videogames. I will rant if you let me. Cake, and grief counselling, will be offered at the conclusion of t

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