motd.co: Magicians

REVIEW: Greg Paulson Magician Simulator 2k25

Publisher/Imprint: EA Sports*

Consoles: Playstation 6, Xbox Origin, SteamBox

 Greg Paulson Magician Simulator 2k25 is the best video game ever made. I don’t say this lightly, and I’m going to go ahead and put it all out there right now so that there’s no question where I’m coming from with this proclamation: I founded this blog. I was its editor-in-chief for 17 years. I think I probably saw a few thousand titles cross my desk over the course of my time managing FrameRate, a lot of which I farmed out to other people but the best of which I always kept for myself. It wasn’t fair, but it was how we operated and people came to accept it. I’ve reviewed a lot of really good games, but I’ve been waiting for the best one. I knew it would come eventually. And it’s finally here.

In 2018 I published a “preview” of a game based on a tech demo I had seen for a game called Magicians, an unassuming name for Electronic Arts’ first desperate bid to turn anything besides actual sports, which dramatically few gamers seemed to care about any more, into a similar game that focused on technical mastery of a skill via complicated controller inputs. They kept the “EA Sports” brand out of some sort of misguided market research result, adding the asterisk solely to indicate that the word “sports” may not accurately convey the spirit of the games involved.

Simply put, Magicians was the Tony Hawk Pro Skater of close-up magic. Through a series of complicated controller inputs, you emulated the work of dozens of established illusionists who specialized in the manipulation of handheld objects— cards, cups and balls, matches, and all manner of distracting props. Through the course of the game you traveled around the world, learning new techniques from each magician. Trick shuffles. Forcing cards. General sleight-of-hand. It went on from there, growing more and more intricate, to a level of detail that frankly surprised me.

It seemed strange that so many magicians would be willing to give up the secrets to their work for the sake of a video game, even one that so wonderfully and tastefully honored their traditions. In the course of writing up the preview, I tried to contact a couple of the magicians whose names & likenesses had been used (and presumably had even contributed motion capture, based on the mannerisms & wildly different performance styles of the in-game characters), but was met with resounding silence. After writing up and publishing a glowing preview of the game, I heard nothing more about Magicians. All questions I had for EA were met with the standard line, something like “we are constantly reshuffling release schedules and development timelines in order to meet market demand in the most efficient way that can remain both profitable to us and serviceable to our amazing fans.” If you read this site nowadays, you’re familiar with these lines. It’s basically all that’s left in the PR playbook.

I gave up on Magicians when the EA Sports* series was discontinued in 2031, shortly before I retired. There was a lot of speculation at the time about why I was retiring, most of which centered around the idea that I owned a yacht somewhere off the coast of Italy (Italy, people? Really?) and planned to never work again while I bathed in cash I had been accepting quietly from PR folk over my entire history as founder of the blog. This isn’t why I’m here and I hate to distract my point, but I will say now that I never took a penny from those bastards. I just gave up trying to convince any of you otherwise, and maybe I shouldn’t even try now, but I hope that time and perspective have given you the ability to recognize the truth.

But. The game.

I got a review copy (the review copy? I haven’t heard anyone else speak of this) of a game this week, the official title of which is Greg Paulson Magician Simulator 2k25. It’s disappointing that EA decided to brand it after a single magician, although I suppose that fits the sports game formula, which they are apparently reviving after more than a decade of absence. Esports have taken their hold at this point, and it doesn’t really make sense for there to be an esports simulator, so the mere existence of this game is a strange anachronism to me. That said, I’m grateful that my successor Niall knew what it was and sent it to me, [ed. note— of course I knew. I’ve been waiting for Magicians since the day I read Frank’s preview just like everyone else] knowing that this was something I wouldn’t want to miss. It’s Magicians, people. They went back and resumed work on Magicians, or maybe they were working on it all along, and it’s even better than it was when I first played it in 2018. This time, though, it’s a box copy. The box I hold in my hand, and thank God they still make discs for the nostalgic types because I want to have this on my shelf forever, however long that is, is a ready-for-retail release of a game that isn’t explicitly labeled, but is definitely the game I previewed all those years ago.

I dug into the game the moment I got it. I ran out and purchased a Playstation 6, the first Playstation I’ve owned in quite a while, only to discover that the ancient TV I don’t even use at this point wasn’t even compatible with the inputs these things come with nowadays. I thought we all agreed that HDMI was good enough for everyone! What happened to that? At any rate, I wasn’t going to let anything stop me from playing this game, so I called up Niall and let him know that I’d be expensing a (relatively) small TV in order to play the game he had sent me. After finally hooking it all up, I booted it up and began playing. The first 20 hours are basically the same game I saw in 2018, with WAY nicer graphics than I ever thought possible. I know I’ve been out of the loop for a while but wow, you all are really spoiled nowadays. Those years spent in the uncanny valley really were a pretty shitty time, and I’d appreciate a little more gratitude for those of us who survived that only to come out the other end of really immersive interactive entertainment. But enough about that. If you want to know anything more about the initial part of the game, I’d refer you back to my Magicians preview, if you’re not already familiar with it. But if you’re still reading this, of course you are. So I want to get to the important part.

***WARNING: THERE ARE SPOILERS BELOW. I ONLY WRITE THEM OUT OF CONCERN FOR YOUR OWN SAFETY IN THE COMING WAR AND FOR THE SATISFACTION OF THOSE WHO HAVE BEEN WAITING FOR DECADES TO SEE THE CONCLUSION OF THE MAGICIANS STORY ***

There’s more to this game than the original Magicians build I played all those years ago. Before, when you mastered all the teachings of the last illusionist and did your final performance, you took a bow and the curtain closed. Credits rolled. It was nice. But this time, when I reached the end of the game, I walked out the back of the theater. It was at that point that a black van rolled up, two men in hooded robes jumped out, and they threw a bag over my head. I sat for forty minutes while the PS6 played sounds. I could hear the door of the van roll shut and the vehicle accelerate as they pulled out of the alley and onto a route taking me God-knows-where. I heard all manner of amazing ambient sounds, tracing my way through the unnamed city and out onto country roads, where eventually nothing but the noise of tires on gravel could be heard. I was gasping for air in real life at this point, wondering when it would be over, my game reviewer’s mind wondering if I would have heard cicadas chirping had the in-game clock aligned with their periodical life-cycle. Ultimately we came to a stop and, still sightless, my character was dragged into a dark building of some sort before I heard the removal of my head covering and I made out a rough outline of some other figures in the room.

All at once seven flames burst forth in a semi-circle in front of me. The hooded figures who had kidnapped me were there. Before I knew it, they were swearing me into their society, promising to teach me their dark arts in exchange for a lifetime of servitude to their dark master. I pressed button combinations to perform ritual sacrifices— button combinations I’m not proud of. Some quick time events summoned unholy beings out of gruesome piles of hair and bone. I may have flayed a mind or two. I’m not sure I want to get into the details of those particular events, and if long-time FrameRate comment thread troll Joker421 is reading this I’m sure he’s standing ready to use my willingness to abridge this particular piece of the game to call into question my journalistic ethics as a member of the enthusiast press but Jacob I feel like I may have killed a man and I can’t explain it; please leave me be.

The end of this sequence, at least as far as I’ve gotten so far, is a stage where I opened a portal to the void, the home of our dark master and the realm which will, according to the ancient prophecy, assert its dominance over ours in the coming war. I’ve got to say, the graphics look great, to the point that I can’t tell if they did some sort of 3d scan of a real occult portal to another dimension or what. At this point I spend my nights kneeling in front of the screen, awaiting my master’s orders. I know he will call for me, and at that point, the war for this plane will begin. Thankfully, now I know which side I am on.

I have a few minor nitpicks with Greg Paulson Magician Simulator 2k25. The beginning of the game still has the intensely boring tutorial level, a complaint I made all those years ago when previewing the game and was apparently not heeded at all by any of the developers to touch the game in the intervening years. I also think some of the textures may be too lifelike? Is that a thing? I’ve been out of the mix for a while, I know, but man some of these graphics really make my skin crawl.

Still, for finally fulfilling all of my early adult fantasies about what games could achieve as far as communicating the difficulty of technical mastery of a complicated skill and also uniting me with the demon lord Ran’thos and his lieutenants Azra’el, Nik’thos and the succubus Kili’aa, I give Greg Paulson Magician Simulator 2k25 a 10/10, a score we’ve been saving for Magicians for basically the entire lifetime of this blog. Hail Ran’thos and game on, gamers!