The Magic Circle: Gold Edition Review – Hack The Planet

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The Magic Circle is a game about a game within a game, but don’t let this confusing premise stop you from playing a truly unique title.

Developers: Question

Publisher: Question

Platform: PS4

Release Date: April 26, 2016

From Pony Island to The Beginner’s Guide, games about games development are starting to grow as a genre, which is great when you consider that most of them are sharp satirical works which offer new ways of understanding and playing video games themselves. The Magic Circle, which released last year on PC and has now arrived on the PlayStation 4, certainly justifies its place within this new category of video games but doesn’t quite compare to the impactful and thought-provoking experiences we’ve come to expect from these titles.

Explaining the story of The Magic Circle is not only impossible, but it would spoil the best surprises of the game itself. For now, just know that you are a QA playtester in an unfinished video game that has been through development hell for the last ten years. As events unfold, however, you gain the power to exploit and tamper with the game’s source code, which leads to all sorts of mayhem regarding both the story and the gameplay.

the magic circle screenshot
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Suffice to say, The Magic Circle holds plenty of twists and turns, and constantly changes up the gameplay alongside a narrative that quickly turns from a tongue-in-cheek parody to a mind-boggling work of meta-fiction. Though the voice acting is strong and a majority of the referential jokes are amusing, The Magic Circle eventually becomes a little too “meta” for its own good. The lofty and overwrought dialogue, especially towards the end, often fails to offer any meaningful commentary. There are some interesting messages conveyed on the relationship between the creator and their audience, and the responsibilities and dangers that follow, but these become lost in a muddled final act that keeps tries to say too much at the expense of any focused critical examination.

That said, The Magic Circle offers more meat to chew concerning gameplay, compared to other titles within the genre. As a hacker, you can interact with the enemies and NPCs of the world and, through your game-breaking powers, can modify their behavior, abilities and even their means of movement. By turning them into an ally, these creatures essentially become your faithful minions, able to do your bidding and follow you around throughout the main portion of the game. I eventually accrued a ragtag bunch of real oddballs, made up of fire-breathing cyber-rats, flying zombies and a whirlybird named Dave.

the magic circle screenshot
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Unfortunately, the payoff for the time and effort spent exploring the map to assemble and upgrade these creatures is woefully lacking, as the game permanently disbands your entire menagerie before you know it. This mechanic was the unquestionable highlight of The Magic Circle, so it was a real disappointment to see it cut short before you can play with it in a meaningful way. That said, the game also features some puzzles that require creative solutions through the modification of your allies, which briefly allows you to make use of your hacking abilities.

The presentation of a half-created world in The Magic Circle is beautifully bleak in its aesthetic disparity, with intelligent application of color schemes and art styles to convey the disjointed state of the game world. This is complemented by a calming melodic soundtrack, cleverly interspersed with overheard snippets of dialogue from the fictional developers who are designing the game. The Magic Circle’s willingness to toy with video game archetypes, such as a home screen or cut scene, also creates a number of mind-bending visual treats for the player.

the magic circle screenshot
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The PS4 version of the game runs smoothly, with no frame-rate issues or technical glitches (unintended glitches, that is), but don’t be deceived by the game’s new moniker of “Gold Edition;” this is the same experience that PC players were treated to last year.

7. <em>The Magic Circle </em>should be commended as an experience which offers unique ways to play and interact with its world, complemented by a story which, despite some inconsistencies, is humorous and insightful for most of the run-time. It’s a shame that <em>The Magic Circle </em>doesn’t utilize its greatest mechanics more extensively, but the game remains an enjoyable and intriguing experience regardless.. Question. . The Magic Circle: Gold Edition

A copy of this game was provided to App Trigger for the purpose of this review. All scores are ranked out of 10, with .5 increments. Click here to learn more about our Review Policy.