Title: The Entropy Centre
Developer: Stubby Games
Release Date: November 2, 2022
Reviewed On: PS5
Genre: Puzzle, Sci-Fi
The Entropy Centre is, ultimately, a game that –
Stubby Games is an indie developer based in Burgess Hill, England –
Nope. Even further.
In 2005, a small group of DigiPen Institute of Technology students formed Nuclear Monkey Software and independently released their senior project, entitled Narbacular Drop, online. Some very important people took notice, but the most important was Valve developer Robin Walker, who showed it to Valve president Gabe Newell, who reached out and hired the entire team. Two years later, they released a title that heavily expanded on the ideas of Narbacular Drop and quickly blew up the burgeoning internet – the modern classic Portal (recently re-released on Nintendo Switch!).
To say that Portal is an influential game would be a dramatic understatement, bringing a strange corner of the Half-Life universe to life and giving us one of the most memorable characters in gaming history, malevolent AI GLaDOS. Set in a strange, sterile science facility called Aperture, the game takes players through a series of brain-bending puzzles that require them to manipulate their environment in ways totally unseen in games previously.
Stubby Games is an indie developer based in Burgess Hill, England, and you may be wondering what exactly Portal has to do with them and their project. If you’ve seen the trailer or played the demo, you may have an inkling that the game is taking heavy inspiration. But as someone who’s played the game, I could identify within seconds of pressing “start” that The Entropy Centre is here for two things – one, to be a great puzzle game, and two, to pay homage to a classic.
You begin the game by waking up in a dilapidated facility called, well, the Entropy Centre, with no memory of how you got there, an opening obviously reminiscent of Portal 2. However, here there’s no malevolent instructor pushing you forward – instead, you’re driven by the desire to find out just how you ended up here. Then, after a few basic block-and-button puzzles, you come across the Entropy Device, a gun that can rewind certain objects in their timelines by up to thirty seconds.
What follows is roughly six-to-eight hours of satisfying, imaginative, and delightfully original puzzle-solving as you navigate the twists and turns of a scientific facility that turns out to be much, much more important than you may originally assume. I’m deeply impressed that the methods I had to employ solving each puzzle were done in ways I’ve never played before. More than once, I was reminded of the phrase, “now you’re thinking with portals.”
The sheer number of different mechanics at play and the complexity of the base rewinding mechanic make it even more impressive that everything works as it should. Sure, I noticed a few times when a jump cube didn’t bounce me the way it probably should have, but ninety-nine percent of the time, every mechanic worked flawlessly.
I, unfortunately, can’t say the same for the game itself – while The Entropy Centre looks pretty good (about as good now as Portal 2 when that game came out), it is clear that the rendering engine on PS5 was frequently struggling to keep up with camera turns. I would often pivot the camera and see dozens of white lines on the screen as the game rushed to load in the environment. This isn’t uncommon even in AAA games, but it is immersion-breaking and distracting in a title that requires this much attention and brainpower.
The other department that comes up lacking is worldbuilding and writing. Where both Portal titles are equally lauded for their gameplay and strong scripts, The Entropy Centre’s worldbuilding largely consists of establishing the function of the titular facility and asking questions about the ethics and possibilities of being able to rewind time. For example, if we rewind it to be Christmas every day, does that mean we can have Christmas dinner every day?
These questions essentially just exist to make the player think and then move on, though. The game scatters “intel” throughout the campaign, but the “intel” is entirely just reading internal emails between facility employees. While it’s a fascinating look into what it would be like to work at a place like this, it’s also disappointingly surface-level.
Equally, surface-level is the relationship between the main characters of The Entropy Centre, the player Aria and her talking AI-gun Astra. Astra mostly functions in the story to create humor around the situation and not much else. While she and the helper bot “E” are charming and cute, I can’t say much more than that, especially given their standard “robot with an emoticon face” design.
Still, I wouldn’t let that take too much away from the actual gameplay. If this were indeed a Portal 2 full-conversion mod, I would be extremely impressed with its ingenious gameplay hook.
The Entropy Centre is, ultimately, a game that charmed and frustrated me in the best possible way. It doesn’t quite reach the level of its inspiration, but it does deliver the perfect puzzle experience of beating your head against the wall until you get the dopamine hit of figuring out the perfect solution.So, if you go into it looking for a brilliant puzzle game that just happens to have a decent sci-fi story attached to it, it’ll be exactly what you expect.
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