Magnetic's developers already know which game you're about to compare it to, so don't worry about it. They'll bring it up to you themselves. "This is one of the ways we're differentiating ourselves from Portal," the developer told me as I reached a room with a branching path (apologies to all - I didn't catch his name because I'm still new to demoing live with the developers being around me). It's good to hear them anticipating people's talking points - after all, it's a game that stars a woman in a strange environment with a crazy gun that can move around cubes as a voice from above talks to you while you solve puzzles and move between rooms. People who've been in the rooms before you have scribbled things on the walls and floors. It's just a genre by now, a genre dominated by Valve's seminal first-person puzzle games.
And to an extent, you already know what this game is based on just that description, but don't let that be a knock against it. After all when I describe a falling block puzzle game you know, to an extent, what a game like Puyo Pop is, or Meteos, even though their description is so close to Tetris. Chamber and physics based puzzle games are just here to stay, so it helps to approach them with an open mind, not just an eye for dismissing them as 'like Portal'.
In Magnetic, you play as a death row inmate, who's been bought by a private company to test a stolen Russian prototype gun that can manipulate magnetic fields. This all takes place in the cold war and I could immediately tell from the aesthetic - everything seems to be made of metal, a cold and unfeeling looking collection of levels that invoke the utilitarian, testing-based nature of the world.
The very cold, industrial feel reminded me a lot of the movie Cube, where you have to get down and crawl from room to room and once you get through and the rooms can move around. It was actually a really cool surprise to feel and see the room start shaking as it was whisked off somewhere else, keeping me from knowing exactly where I am in the facility, or even how large the facility is. On top of that, the cramped quarters of the room transitions and the changing voices over the intercom kept me feeling a little discombobulated and intrigued. Where was this place? What's the deal with it? Why am I here?
Oh right, the death row inmate thing.
They weren't in the demo, but the developer explained that in between certain puzzles you'll actually go back to prison and deal with a story there as well. On top of that, the story winds up changing based on your choices. The idea is to give you multiple playthroughs. In a puzzle game like this it becomes easy to know the puzzles and not feel the desire to go back through, but with a changing story and a potential for new rooms to be in, it's got a chance to stay around longer than a single play.
Magnet effects are really hard to do in a game. I just reviewed Teslagrad, in fact, a game I felt didn't quite do it right... but the physics engine in Magnetic seems much more involved than that. There's a good feeling to the weight of the cubes you're dragging around, and I appreciated the way that pushing a block away also pushed you away - it gave a good sense of weight to everything, and showed a good understanding of magnetic fields.
Magnetic seems super awesome--like a step forward in the genre, complete with branching stories and a more involved narrative. The systems at play seem like they're sufficiently deep and they're also one of the few games at PAX that I saw that wasn't in Early Access, or planning to be later. They want to put the game out only when it's 100% complete, and so far the game seems rather complete and fully featured. When it comes out I'm hoping it all comes together to make something unique, and I guess we'll know when the game comes out in March.