Everything’s falling apart at The Entropy Centre.
Portal did a lot for first-person puzzle games thanks to its fun characterisation of its villain, as well as doing a lot of clever things with a couple of simple mechanics. There were those that tried to imitate the portal mechanic, but few that tried to do the same thing with a different mechanic entirely. The Entropy Centre reminds me of Portal in so many ways, but it does a lot to mark itself as a unique specimen in the first-person puzzle genre.
Before going anywhere with this review, I should point out that the vast majority of this game was created by one person, and that in itself is an impressive achievement. The fact that The Entropy Centre is also a really well made product is a testament to the hard work and dedication that has been put into this project. Not all small team games are amazing, but sometimes a gem comes along and shows that you don’t need a team of hundreds and a billion pound budget to create something special.
You wake up as Aria in the titular Entropy Centre with no memory of why you are there or understanding as to why it’s in such a state of disrepair. You quickly find a time manipulation gun with an AI companion called Astra who tells you that the only way to progress is to solve puzzles to build energy that powers the facility’s Entropy Device. Most of the tale is told through emails you find on computers dotted about the facility, and you’ll be able to piece it together if you find most of the obvious ones.
Without spoiling too much, you find out quite early that the facility is used to rewind the Earth should it ever be destroyed by anything. The centre then sends data back to Earth so changes can be made to avoid that disaster from happening. There are interesting points in the game that highlight the only reason certain events have happened is because of The Entropy Centre intervening with events on the Earth. This of course leaves you with questions about why the place is abandoned and falling apart. Many of the emails you discover raise all sorts of implications for the workers at the centre, and it gets quite philosophical at times. The story really was a strong point here, and I found myself being quite keen to find more computers to discover more about what had been going on.
The Earth is rewound using the entropy device, and that is in turn powered by entropy energy. That energy is inexplicably generated by people solving puzzles around the centre, and Astra introduces you to these quite handily. The gun you find allows you to rewind time for certain objects for up to thirty seconds, and this is the single mechanic that is used in so many creative ways throughout the game. Initially, you use it to simply move blocks around to activate different buttons in the correct order to open a path for you to reach the exit, but by the end of the game you’ll be rebuilding parts of the scenery, transforming blocks into lasers, and leaping over bottomless chasms.
Some of these puzzles are absolutely devious too. Even the early ones can be quite challenging, as you need to completely rethink your approach to puzzles. Because you’ll be moving blocks back in time, you need to think backwards and start with where you want the block to end before working your way back to the start. I loved how smart I felt getting through even the simplest of challenges due to the fact I had to adjust my approach so much. It becomes more complex as you move on due to new blocks being introduced, including jump blocks and bridge generators. Over the nine-or-so hour story, I never once got bored thanks to the constant introduction of new elements to work with.
These new elements are even introduced in a smart way, with Astra explaining what the new element is and giving you a reasonably simple puzzle to solve using it. Subsequent rooms will then include the new feature mixed in with previous ones, constantly upping the challenge until the next addition is brought in. It’s a simple, but effective way of constantly introducing new levels of challenge.
It’s not all puzzling though thanks to the occasional traversal section. You’ll sometimes get exposition from Astra as you move between puzzles, and sometimes you’ll find the facility starts to fall apart around you. During these sections you’ll need to think quickly, and repair the path ahead of you with your gun. These frequently took me a couple of attempts, as sometimes it wasn’t quite clear what was falling down at any particular moment, but getting through them in one go feels good.
What feels less good though, are the robots. Much like the cute turrets from Portal, The Entropy Centre has cute droids that roam some of the puzzle rooms. The problem is, the turrets would remain in place, making them an element of the puzzle to overcome, whereas here the robots move around and cause you all kinds of problems. If you’re seen, they fire an energy blast towards you, and being hit by a couple results in death. You can use your gun to rewind the shots to destroy the drone, but they regularly don’t come alone. Some of the puzzles have infinitely respawning automatons too, meaning you’re trying to work out the solution whilst also keeping half a dozen enemies off your back at the same time. These were by far the most irritating sections of the game and I really could have done without them. Thankfully, these are few and far between, and you can get back to solving the intricately put together puzzles.
Equally impressive is the overall presentation. Everything looks very impressive, if you overlook the notorious Unreal Engine 4 texture pop-in that crops up at the start of each chapter. There’s great lighting and environmental effects, with the environments themselves being interesting throughout. You’ll work through an office area, a museum, and even a moon-based beach. The only issue I had here was that sometimes puzzle elements weren’t as clear as I’d like them to be, with jump pads blending in with the scenery, and blocks you needed to rewind seeming very small in the distance. Small problems compared to the bigger picture though.
The sound is excellent here as well. There aren’t many characters to voice, but everyone comes across really well. Aria’s optimistic uncertainty comes across well in her voice work, and Astra is just the right side of chipper to not become annoying. The music is good too, with everything fitting with the environment well, although you might get a little fed up with the generic puzzle room soundscapes if yourself stuck on a single puzzle for a long time. I liked how some of the sound effects were used too. Whilst the rewinding sound got a little bit tiresome, each puzzle element had a distinct effect that you can pick out whilst rewinding. When a laser hits a sensor you get one sound, whilst a block passing through a transformer gate gives you a different one. This allows you to work out what’s happening and when you might want to stop a block in its tracks even if you’re somewhat unsighted.
The Entropy Centre is a really well put together puzzle experience that certainly wears its inspiration on its sleeve. That’s no bad thing though, as if you’re going to imitate a puzzle game, imitating one of the best is a solid choice, especially when you have the talent to make something this impressive. I commend Stubby Games, and I’m very keen to see what they do next. If this is anything to go by, there’s a bright future ahead.
The Entropy Centre is available now on Xbox, Playstation, and PC.