If you thought Portal had too many physics puzzles and not enough infuriatingly difficult platforming sections then congrats, you’re Impulsion’s target audience. Impulsion places you in the role of a robot assigned to do endless tests for an inscrutable AI in a testing complex of indeterminate nature and location. At this point the general premise isn’t even second-hand from Portal, it’s outright third-hand after Magnetic: Cage Closed. After the perfunctory plot is out of the way, you’ll get down to the nuts and bolts of Impulsion: running and jumping through a series of frantically paced levels.
The rudiments of Impulsion lie in the two guns you wield: one shoots a blue force bolt which turns into a blue sphere when impacting with a surface and the other shoots an orange one with an identical effect. Anything passing through the blue sphere goes faster, while anything passing through the orange sphere goes slower. At the most basic level, you can use blue spheres to increase your running speed and jumping velocity to get to more distant platforms. You can also use them to make moving obstacles pass by more quickly. Orange spheres slow down projectiles moving through them, making it much easier to pass by death-dealing laser dispensers. You can also affix them to red patches on the walls, allowing you to rebound off them to reach higher spots.
Blue and Orange
As the levels roll on, the complexity of jumpery and shootery required intensifies. The evil overseer remarked that I’d be breaking records if I died fewer than twenty times before completing a particular level. How I laughed. Then I was thrust into a nightmarishly tricky procession of wall-jumps before falling through a tiny passage full of deadly blue force fields and orange laser throwers. To disarm the blue forcefields I had to fire my blue gun and to slow down the laser throwers, I needed my red gun. So I was frantically trying to aim and shoot through each obstacle with less than a second’s interval between each, all while guiding my trajectory in mid-fall. And one other thing: there’s no health bar in impulsion as everything that can kill you can kill you in one touch. All I can say is: thank God that there’s no loading times when you restart each level.
Some levels were so punishingly hard I really empathized with the plight of those forced into this sort of diabolical testing: I felt like a rabbit endlessly running in a cycle of frustrating death and rebirth. Even the reassuringly energetic, pulsing techno music failed to stir me on at points. Sometimes you’ll have to ride on moving platforms, or jump across platforms which disappear – not tricky obstacles in themselves. However, when you’re riding a moving platform across a virtual sea that kills you instantly, having to leap over obstacles along the way, jumping along red patches along the walls (having first had to use your blue sphere on the platform which can speed it up to the point you can’t catch it again).
Impulsion’s puzzles are more about precision than about actually figuring things out. The amount of variables are usually quite low: you’re only slowing things down or speeding them up. Quite a few times, I figured that I’d made a mistake in the planning of a series of jumps because it seemed impossible to succeed, but the only flaw was that the execution wasn’t absolutely picture perfect. This is why comparisons to Portal only go so far, because precision trumps puzzling by miles.
Pitiful Plot isn’t Portal
Impulsion doesn’t just take its cues from Portal, it has a strong influence from Tron, not only in its neon blue and orange hued gamescapes, but its references as well. The overseer even chimes in to say “End of Line”, quoting Tron’s arch-villain, the MCP, as one of his many quips when you die (and you’ll die a lot). However, Impulsion isn’t as consistently hilarious as Portal or as clever as Magnetic: Cage Closed. Being lambasted as a disappointment by the dour, very English-accented overseer is amusing enough to draw the occasional smirk, but it does get a bit wearisome and repetitive, because there’s not much real satirical depth to any of the humour.
I did enjoy the obvious homages, but unlike Portal, where the protagonist has the chance to escape their endless testing dystopia, Impulsion sticks very rigidly to its premise. In this sense, I kind of felt like I was suffering through Chel’s “bad end” where she’s at the whim of GladOS forever. Interestingly, Impulsion’s protagonist is oddly blase about his fate, responding to the endless taunting of his overseer with a wry, chipper, almost smug amusement. I think that really exemplifies why I didn’t enjoy Impulsion as much as its contemporaries: some people can enjoy having their reactions endlessly tested, but I crave a bit more context and motivation to really enjoy it. Impulsion’s protagonist doesn’t need to escape from an endless routine, but I do.
High Speed Trip to Nowhere
Impulsion is a finger-punishingly frenetic and tough 3D platformer, but it lacks the hilarious and intriguing storylines of Portal and Magnetic: Cage Closed, preferring instead to have a stunningly simple story and a light aesthetic homage to Tron. I found it hard to persevere because of the savage skill requirements at the higher levels, and the minimal narrative motivation to prolong the protagonist’s cycle. However, if what you’re looking for is to test your twitch reactions in new and infuriating ways, leap on over to Steam to pick up Impulsion (and don’t forget to use the blue sphere to go faster!)
Final Verdict: 3/5
Available on: PC (Reviewed) ; Publisher: Playdius, Plug in Digital ; Developer: Driving Force Games ; Players: 1 ; Released: July 19th, 2018
Full disclosure: This review is based on review code given to Hey Poor Player by the publisher.