Magicka 2

Magicka 2 is short and sweet - and it also feels like a bit of a missed opportunity.

PlayStation Plus November free games revealed

Mass Effect 2! Walking Dead Season 2! Magicka 2! Beyond Good & Evil!

UPDATE 4.45pm: November's other PlayStation Plus games include the excellent Mass Effect 2 and Beyond Good & Evil on PlayStation 3, plus Invizimals on Vita and Dragon Fin Soup across PS3, PS4 and Vita.

Magicka 2 review

Magicka 2 review

Serious wizness.

Few games have understood magic - the wizardly, fantasy, fetch-me-some-sparrow-entrails kind of magic - quite as perfectly as Magicka did. Magicka grasped that real magic should be creative, rigorous, elemental, and only barely controlled. It should shudder beneath your feet and leave you drained. It should require a perfect balance of dexterity and imagination and an understanding of the strange, unshakable laws that underpin the whole thing. Inevitably, Magicka's innate brilliance has been both a blessing and a curse.

It's been a blessing because few games provide this kind of immediate thrill: magic broken down into eight elements that can be combined into complex, devastating spells at a moment's notice. An entire gaming arsenal unlocked from the start - every trick in the book available as long as you have the imagination to work them out. Cast water and fire to make steam. Sure, that's cooking rather than magic, really. But fire and earth to make fireballs? That's magic, and it's just the first step. Death lightning! Ice shotguns! You're doing all this on the hoof, too, in the heat of magical combat, with no obvious mana pools to worry about, just the flexibility of your fingers and the speed of your wits.

But the curse? Eight elements and a bunch of ways to cast them meant that hacking through Magicka was a bit like learning to play an instrument. It was an investment, and it could be exhausting. I'm fine with that, personally, but I can see why people were put off, or why they felt Magicka was mocking and intentionally awkward. More importantly, Magicka took this beautiful sandbox magic system and then it didn't really know what to do with it. It stuck it into a top-down shooter, albeit a disguised one, and strung a campaign across pretty but rather inert fantasy worlds filled with charmingly lame jokes. Co-op brought the thing to hectic, knockabout life, of course, but there was still the sense of a missed opportunity - even if it's not clear exactly what that opportunity could have been. There's still the sense that Magicka's central premise was just too good for the entirely decent game built around it. Perhaps it was too good for any game. That's magic for you.

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One of the reasons Magicka works so well, and remains so popular, is its complete subversion of all those wizardly tropes that high fantasy has so firmly established. In lieu of pensive scholars with wise words of reflection, we have faceless idiots setting huge tracts of land alight, giggling at the cooked corpses. Instead of stuffy, bearded old codgers locked in cold stone towers, there are psychotic mages hurling lighting and firing machine guns. In Vietnam. While you can argue that it's hardly subtle, to its credit, it's certainly not staid.