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Indie gaming is filled with a litany of titles that pay obvious homage to something pivotal in the digital landscape. We have a variety of Dark Souls and Metroidvania clones, but we haven’t really seen too many titles like The Entropy Room, which takes inspiration from the fan favorite Portal series. Despite this, Stubby Games managed to provide The Entropy Center with its own sense of style and mind-bending puzzles that will have you breaking out the pen and pad to figure out their time-centric solutions.
One of the elements behind The Entropy Center is the narrative and how interesting it is. Earth is coming to a catastrophic end, and the folks at the Entropy Center have been turning back time to avoid the end of the world. Unfortunately, you are the last person alive on the station, and you must figure out how to reverse the devastating effects. You are not alone in this adventure, as the sentient gun named PEA is at your side to help you solve puzzles by reversing the time and space of the object you point it at. PEA also acts as comedic relief and provides you with relevant information as you move through the facility.
Narratively, I think the story works exceptionally well, and it isn’t absolutely insane. There are a lot of finer details within the environment, such as the abundant amount of unlocked personal computers telling you what it was like living in this facility. There is one particular story about a cat getting illegally smuggled in, dying, and a slew of responses to the HR-provided email with only the word “cat.” These dark comedy bits and set dressing work together to create this realistic and lived-in area.
While the story elements are quite good, my frustration came from some of the puzzle elements within the game. As previously mentioned, you have PEA at your side, a play on words of the term “pea shooter” as it can’t deal damage to anything. PEA can manipulate the time of an object by reversing it backwards up to 30 seconds. A display on the gun tells you how long an object has been controlled for, and you can easily reset this timer manually, if needed. With this trusted and rather hilarious tractor beam at your side, you will be solving the puzzles by reverse engineering them. Since you are dealing with the forward momentum of time, you need to think in reverse.
There are various blocks that you can pick up and use to help solve these puzzles. Each block type provides you with a specific use. There are some blocks that create bridges, others lasers, and the most agonizing to use: the jump block. If there is a puzzle that requires this blue and silvered flat box, I know I am in for a bad time. This is because the block’s design seems to be just a little bit off. If you jump off a high position onto it, there is a chance you’ll miss it completely while feeling like you landed on it. Yet, there are other times where I am walking past it just a little too close and get thrown into the air for some reason. It doesn’t help that if there is a wall next to you, any momentum is instantly lost. The amount of metaphorical rough edges makes the experience occasionally frustrating.
As for design, each puzzle provides you with a series of platforms that are used to unlock doors and disable electrical fences that reset your reversal time. You need to figure out how to solve each puzzle using what you have at hand. There will always be more platforms than there are blocks, so you must be methodical in your approach. The Entropy Center starts you out with some basic concepts and then slides into a steep curve at some points. There were a few times that I was incredibly lost and had to take a few minutes of planning just to succeed.
It gets incredibly complicated when you start throwing in additional blocks to a point where it almost feels like program scripting. Everything needs to be incredibly specific and executed in precise timing. In one puzzle I had to jump backwards at a specific moment to raise a bridge and unlock a door simultaneously. Was there a better way to solve it? I don’t know for sure, but it was the only way I could figure it out. These puzzles got more chaotic as I went further into the facility, causing me to sit still and figure out the proper pathing for blocks without running out the timer.
Things get even more frustrating when you know how to solve the puzzle, but the second you failed a step, you must do a complete overhaul and reset everything because you miscalculated a jump at the very end. Speed and positioning are incredibly important, especially when you must hit a very specific jump, or land on a bridge in a particular way. It can be incredibly difficult to know exactly where you should be going. All that being said, the rush of energy I got for accomplishing my task could be bottled up and sold at a premium.
Performance-wise, I can’t complain. The game ran smoothly on my PC, and the environments looked dingy and dirty, as intended. It has an incredibly similar aesthetic as Portal, as I previously mentioned, and this feeling carries through the rest of the game, with a few surprise changes through some action set pieces that add a layer of urgency. Technically, I find it to be rather marvelous to see various portions of the facility fall apart and rebuild themselves when I point PEA towards the rubble. There was a little bit of detailing that popped in and out, but with a puzzle game of this caliber, if it doesn’t affect the way puzzles operate, then I don’t see it as a major detriment to the overall experience.
I had a few audio issues where music would stop looping or it would pause randomly. Not necessarily a game breaker or anything, when it was silent it did add a bit of tension to the environment. Perhaps the show stealer is the dialog between PEA and your character who go back and forth fairly often, discussing the elements within the room or specific plot elements.
Aside from various control issues, I think a lot of people who really enjoy puzzle games will get a lot from The Entropy Center. It might be a bit darker and tonally dark compared to other similar titles out there, but it does deliver a rather enjoyable and rewarding experience. It also really scratches that itch left behind by Valve’s inability to grasp the number 3.