There’s nothing quite like the feeling you get in a puzzle game when you look at the big picture and the solution to the whole stage comes to you all at once. And the clever challenges in The Entropy Centre provided me with a regular supply of those “Eureka!” moments. Its time-bending, first-person brain teasers weren’t usually as challenging as I might have liked, but finding the solutions was always satisfying regardless. And it all comes wrapped in a fairly compelling, bittersweet story, too.
Let’s get one thing out of the way immediately: yes, this game is a lot like Valve’s Portal series. You wake up in a suspiciously abandoned corporate complex. You find a weird science gun for solving physics puzzles that involve placing cubes on switches. And all the while, a plucky AI companion chatters away to add some levity to the situation. The Entropy Centre wears that inspiration proudly and, if anything, it comes across as a very intentional tribute. And I, for one, am totally on board with more games inspired by their genre’s greatest hits.
The main point of divergence is that, while Portal’s puzzles mainly dealt with space, The Entropy Centre’s are about time. Your trusty entropy device can be used to rewind items, projectiles, and even certain world objects, which really made me think outside the box. Well, for the first half of the 10-hour journey, at least. A significant portion of the dozens of chambers I went through felt kind of samey once I understood the basic logic they were designed with, and I wish it explored more creative and elaborate ways to mix things up.
My trusty entropy device really made me think outside the box.
Ultimately, once I got the hang of analyzing each room starting from the end and working backwards in my head to the solution, the difficulty fell off a bit. There were only a handful of puzzles that took me more than 10 minutes, and two in particular that stick out in my mind as being really challenging. It wasn’t until the introduction of interesting new puzzle elements later on, like transformation fields that can change blocks into other block types, that difficulty ramped up again. But others just weren’t nearly as interesting. Magically rewinding time to move a conveyor belt doesn’t feel much different than reversing its direction by pressing a button – that’s definitely a case of an over-engineered solution to a problem.
Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think The Entropy Centre is too easy overall. The level of challenge is a nice middle ground between casual and punishing. It’s more that it never fully gets around to exploring all of the opportunities that feel like they should be possible with the clever tools it has. I was constantly thinking about ways you could combine all of these elements to create even more elaborate and diabolical puzzles, but the level design seems to leave a lot on the table. And with that in mind, I’m further disappointed that there aren’t currently any level editing tools that might allow the community to push them to those limits.
The level of challenge is a nice middle ground between casual and punishing.
The Entropy Centre does go interesting places with its story, though, and ties its series of puzzle chambers together with a tense, imaginative sci-fi tale that asks some thought-provoking questions about foresight, inevitability, and what you could or couldn’t change if you had the chance to do it all over again. The Centre itself is deteriorating as you progress through it, though I felt the oncoming disaster was a bit too drawn out to really inspire a sense of urgency. Likewise, much like its puzzle elements, I don’t think this journey fully explores the fascinating metaphysics of its premise, either. I get it: time travel plots are hard. And this one isn’t bad, by any means. It’s just not exceptionally mind-blowing or innovative, either.
The voice acting lifts the story up, though, with charming and heartfelt performances bringing our determined “puzzle operative” protagonist Aria and her plucky AI companion, Astra, to life. The humor is pretty hit-or-miss and riffs on tired themes of mechanical, corporate indifference to human feelings: Astra will cheerfully say things like, “Would you like me to remove the word ‘yeet’ from my dictionary?” It’s not on the same level as the sharp, laugh-out-loud writing in Portal – especially not matching the fantastic Portal 2. But it made me genuinely care about the little smiley face on the back of my gun, at the end of the day, and there’s something to be said for that.
The Entropy Centre is a more than competent riff on a Portal-style first-person physics puzzler, chock full of brain teasers that manage to have satisfying solutions that made me feel like a big brain time wizard, although it never realizes the full, imaginative potential of its mind-bending tools. The design of the chambers, and the writing for that matter, never reach the heights that the Valve classics which very obviously inspired it did. But an endearing voice cast and a thought-provoking story about racing time itself make the journey well worth it.