The Magic Circle [Review]

After multiple crowdfunding campaigns, many fits and starts and a complete overhaul of the original concept, the brainchild of cult game designer Starfather is ready to see the light of day. His interactive text adventure captured the imaginations of millions almost twenty years ago and now he is ready to once again revolutionize the gaming industry with the jaw-dropping release of the first-person action RPG, The Magic Circle.

Or maybe it’ll be more of a story-driven walking simulator. Or maybe a puzzle game? We’re not sure yet, but hey the team behind it has promised a playable demo at this year’s E3, so it’s release should be right around the corner…


If the above words don’t seem relatable to gamers living through this tumultuous year in which Peter Molyneux’s latest ambitious project got permanently sealed in one of Microsoft’s dark vaults and the game that promised the universe left many players not bothered to leave their first planet, then I don’t know what is. And that’s why The Magic Circle, a game all about making games by a small team who had previously worked on such titles as Bioshock Infinite and Dishonored, is extremely relevant right now.

At the heart of it this game is about the special kind of collaborative creativity you only really see in video games. The four major characters are very distinct and represent the different forces driving game design. First is Starfather, the revered auteur (think John Cormack, Ken Levine or Peter Molyneux), a perfectionist so obsessed with what kind of legacy his game will have that he can never actually finish it. His second in command, an ex pro gamer, is an advocate for gameplay over story and someone who just wants to be done with this sinking ship of a project. Third is the googly eyed superfan whose entire life seems to revolve around Starfather’s creation, a nod to how powerful of a force fandom has become in recent years. The last is a mysterious being which represents the perpetually-in-limbo game itself, a creation that has turned against its creators after seeing their incompetence at finishing what they had started.

You, a mute spectator, witness the transpiring drama between these characters as you navigate the chaotic hodge podge of the various game assets that have accrued over the countless years of development.

While the story of the game is incredibly riveting, the gameplay doesn’t lag behind. This game is way more involved than The Beginner’s Guide, another ‘meta’ title about game development released around the same time. Instead of being a linear walking simulator The Magic Circle is more of an adventure game in which the tools of game design become the mechanics you use to solve puzzles.

The thing that is incredible about The Magic Circle is that the smoothness of its internal mechanics doesn’t threaten to derail its claim of being an ‘unfinished’ game. The skill of its game designers really shows when the game looks like a mess, but feels like a good game. I bet it’s similar in film, you can only know that you’re a great director if you can intentionally make a movie that’s so bad it’s good.

As I said earlier, the main reason to spend the five or so hours playing through this game is just how timely its commentary on the backstage of the gaming industry is. You really get the sense of having a changed perspective on things after finishing The Magic Circle.  

4 out of 5

+ Story
+ Polished ‘Unfinished Game’ Aesthetic
+Self-Aware Remarks
+Ashly Burch
-Too Damn Short