Game Review: The Magic Circle

The best broken game of all time.

Developer: Question
Publisher: Question
Platforms: Microsoft Windows (reviewed), Mac OS, Linux
Available on: Steam

The most sure-fire way of making an Oscar-bait movie is to make a film that has Hollywood and film-making at its core. I’m not sure that in the world of video games, the same principle applies when you make a game about game development, because otherwise, this game would’ve won.

It’s a fun little romp through a satirized version of the turbulent development of a long-anticipated game and you are a beta-tester for this still fairly broken game. It makes fun of games stuck in development hell and constant course corrections over the years (Duke Nukem Forever comes to mind) as well as over-inflated game developer egos with hints towards Richard Garriott and Peter Molyneux and doesn’t stop before also making fun of fanboys and their perceived entitlement of an intellectual property based on their admiration for said intellectual property.

To say more about the narrative of the game would spoil a lot of the surprises, but I found it highly entertaining. The dialogues are written with tons of levity and it’s clear that it isn’t meant as a scathing critique of any one thing, but more of a lighthearted satire at the expense of how seriously we sometimes take this medium. But what really brings the script together is the fantastic voice-acting from all the characters.

Gameplaywise it continues the theme of game development, with you traversing an unfinished world filled with hostile creatures that you yourself can’t fight because the designer opted to remove the combat altogether right when you start playing. But you’re given the ability to manipulate the game world itself through a very simplistic form of changing the source code. You’re able to undelete things since garbage collection apparently hasn’t been implemented yet and you can retool properties and variables of objects and creatures, turning enemies into allies and giving them a variety of different abilities with tons of creative potential with all the available combinations. It’s not a very deep system and there isn’t a ton of finesse to it, but there are a few puzzles you need to solve with this mechanic.

If there’s one thing that bothered me about the game it was the final stretch where you are tasked to create a “level” of this fictional game yourself. You don’t really need to put any thought into it, but it’s really the low-point of the game for me, since it takes just a little bit too long and the punchline to that particular part of the game isn’t the funniest. The game is also fairly short. You can beat it in as little as two hours if you don’t go out of your way of collecting the “developer” commentaries and notes which only serve to provide some additional humor and I’m not entirely convinced that it deserves the $20 price tag, but I still have to praise the game for being primarily focused on a narrative and theme while still managing to provide the player with interesting if not massively rewarding gameplay and not just a walking simulator, so I’d definitely recommend it at a discount.

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