There are worse role models to have than Valve and the Portal series.
Valve's popular Portal series has spawned various futuristic puzzlers over the years, and in the absence of Portal 3, the indie scene in particular has picked up the slack left behind by the sympathetic killer robot GLaDOS. The vast majority of these tribute attempts have certainly failed to match their ancestor in pure gaming magic, and while the latest offering The Entropy Centre, also doesn't do anything directly new to push the genre, which Gabe Newell's team pioneered in 2007, forward, it still manages to deliver an experience that needn't be ashamed in the shadow of its masterful predecessors. It's a good game at heart simply, but certainly not a masterpiece by any means.
As in the case of Portal, our protagonist wakes up inside a laboratory without knowing much about either where they are or how they got there. However, it soon turns out that you've been stationed at a research base on the moon called The Entropy Centre, and it's here that our heroine named Aria is supposed to solve puzzles along with her co-workers in order to harvest energy that can help the Earth and its population. The crux of the matter, however, is that Aria appears to be the only person alive on the station in question, and so the main objective after the painful revelation becomes trying to figure out what has happened and what role you play in a much larger story.
You're not entirely alone on this remote space station, however, as the deserted corridors and decaying halls are populated by a couple of cute robots who are, for the most part, friendly to the people on board. You'll also meet an AI companion in the form of a rifle named Astra fairly promptly, and this encouraging piece of software acts as your primary support and aid throughout the nine-hour adventure. For Astra is not a weapon in the classic sense, as instead of hard-hitting lead bullets, she shoots out an energy-charged plasma beam that has the ability to rewind time.
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This ability then, as you can imagine, comes into its own during the course of the campaign, and it is with the help of the past that the game's many puzzles find their solution and open up a path into the future. Manipulating time is overall a clever concept to tackle the puzzle genre with, and also one that is slightly reminiscent of the understated action puzzler Singularity, but at times it can unfortunately feel a little undercooked when compared to the brilliance we've become accustomed to in Portal 2, for example. Indeed, The Entropy Centre is a bit of a so-called "One Trick Pony" where it's obvious many times that you only need to solve a room's puzzle by thinking backwards, and it can thus become a bit tiresome the more hours you sink in. That said, there are a couple of entertaining moments that are difficult to master, and the latter parts of the adventure in particular can leave you scratching your head as everything from time, space, and physical obstacles involving cubes (which possess special abilities) have to be taken into account.
One annoying detail of the gameplay itself, however, is that the slightest error can force you to redo entire stages and replay time-consuming sequences. Because since you always have to move your objects and platforms in the right order, and backwards in terms of what order they should end up in, a simple misplaced button press can make you start all over again. As an example, I was inside a room where I had to move a platform that allowed me to bounce from one plateau to another. This would then be repeated a full three times, but between sections two and three I forgot to release the platform one last time, my jump didn't register, and it was just a case of turning the knob and doing it all over again. In my opinion, it would have been better to be able to control the time back and forth to correct minor mistakes to keep up the pace and move the experience forward. After all, a story-driven puzzle game should be more about finding the right solution and less about flawless execution, at least in my opinion.
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The story and presentation are otherwise nothing astounding or overly exciting, although there are certainly a few nuggets to be found here and there. After all, apocalyptic doomsday tales have been done many times before, and while the story does make you think, it's ultimately not one that will live with me after the credits roll by. Better, however, is the aforementioned AI gun Astra, which manages to bond with you as a player despite the fact that the game world is certainly not short of robot companions with a penchant for tactful logic and smaller portions of sarcasm and irony. It's still nothing on par with GLaDOS or Wheatley, of course, but the little robot gun makes an otherwise fairly standard puzzle adventure into a game that can still stand squarely in the vicinity of its sources of inspiration.
Because in the end, The Entropy Centre is a leisurely puzzle ride made primarily for those who crave Valve's heyday as a game developer, without being built to appeal to the masses. For the Portal vibes are consistently strong, and in the absence of a third instalment, here's a title that may temporarily satiate the need for physics-based first-person puzzling. Unfortunately, however, it doesn't quite reach the genre's absolute masterpiece.
7 / 10
Clever puzzles. Nice story. Cute characters.
Familiar themes. Familiar concept. Too little variety.