The Magic Circle is the the closest thing to an advancement of whatever genre Portal is since… well, since Portal. It’s not Portal, though. It’s kind of an RPG in the same way that Portal is a First Person Shooter. The trappings of its mechanics are within the recognised mechanics from a million first-person RPG games, but that’s wrapped inside a well-devised universe with well-written characters, and the actual gameplay is spun out at 90 degrees from that. If I had to add another game’s influence to cite, The Stanley Parable is where I’d go next.
And I can’t say a lot more than that about it. The game is a metafiction, as you can see from the mostly-in-universe website. In-universe, The Magic Circle is the long awaited, long delayed sequel to a massively beloved twenty-year-old text-based adventure game (Real-world touchstones: Ultima, Bards Quest, Fool’s Errand). The author of that game is a classic games-autor white-bearded-male, who has taken on the avatar of the great God within the game – the Skyfather – but whose twenty-year promises of future games are starting to ring hollow. Veteran gamers will instantly recognise the heavy flavours of Richard Garriott in the character’s history, along with strong notes of Peter Molyneux and even to people like Cliff Johnson, and here you start, as a player given early access to this massively long awaited sequel to a hugely popular game. Except there are some assets which look… strange in context. Something isn’t quite right. The trailer hints at this fairly well.
The game plays a lot with concepts of game space, of being inside which game. It has a lot to say about narrative vs mechanics (coming from former Bioshock developers, there’s an air of critical catharsis which I would suspect more of being dirty laundry if they hadn’t got Ken Levine to voice a character), game development, fandom, actually getting things done and the sorrow of half finished universes.
It took me about 6 hours of playtime to get through it, and while that’s quite short, it’s fully formed and… complete, really. There’s a lot there, and a late twist that spins a lot of the game on its head.
It’s in early access at the moment, but as I say the game is complete. Early Access is an early release before they’ve got the translations down, which will take a while to finish and collate – there’s a lot of there there – and as far as I could tell all the glitches were intentional (it is, in part, a game about inserting your gameplay crowbar into the cracks of the world).
You should play this game. I hope they release a demo too, but don’t watch Lets Plays, don’t watch it streaming.
… And that’s it, really. There’s some deeper stuff about the mechanics, about juxtapositioning, about commentary that I’ll get into eventually, but so much of what’s cool is tied heavily narrative-based modification of the mechanics, and I like the story too much to spoil it for you without giving people a chance to buy it first.
First Glance Review: Did you like Baldur's Gate style games? Don't buy this. This will suck sixty hours of your life, and do you have sixty spare hours to spend on computer games? I didn't think so. Don't get this game. Your loved ones and dependants will thank you. It's awesome.