I enjoy many games, but it’s a rare gem that literally brings a smile to my face from the start. The Entropy Centre is such a title. The first time I used the object rewind gameplay mechanic to get to an otherwise inaccessible area I smiled from ear to ear. This clever element is used to great effect in this puzzle game, and hasn't become a tired gimmick during my playtime thanks to the assured design of indie developer Stubby Games.
Players assume the role of Aria, a Junior Puzzle Operative at the titular facility. She awakens inside it to discover that the center is in an alarming state of disrepair, seemingly vacated and overgrown with foliage. Although the situation is dire, a Puzzle Exercise Assistant (PEA) named Astra (programmed into her Handheld Entropy Device or HED) shepherds her through her puzzle exercises. As it turns out, solving puzzles produces entropy, which the facility needs in order to operate.
It’s an interesting conceit, as entropy otherwise can be described as “degeneration marked by increasing uncertainty, disorder, fragmentation, chaos, etc.; specifically, such a process regarded as the inevitable, terminal stage in the life of a social system or structure.” Astra does eventually explain how it works but even Aria scoffs at it. Their ongoing dialog not only provides context for the goings on, but also interjects humor into their predicament. If this setup reminds you of Portal, you’re not alone.
The comparisons are understandable given the facility, the institutional AI seemingly in control, Aria’s situation and the projectile device and environmental puzzles that represent the kind of escape room gameplay that make up the journey. But the core mechanic of object rewind elevates this game not only to proud homage but a strong title in its own right with a creative twist on puzzle solving that requires a more thoughtful approach than standard challenges.
Familiar pressure plates, crates and springboards make their appearance but time and limited resources are where the Handheld Entropy Device comes into play. Object rewind is the primary function of the tool, which allows the user to move objects in real time but also in reverse by about 30 seconds. When players are faced with multiple pressure plates and too few crates, for instance, placing them in the proper order for when time is ultimately rewound becomes the key to forward progress.
If this hurts your head, well, it should. But in a good way. You basically have to solve each puzzle twice – once going forward to the exit, then again flowing backward to your start point in order to time object placement appropriately for the rewind. To the end. Trust me, it’s inspired and fun to figure out, especially when the game adds physical walls (breaking line of sight and object control), transformers (electrical fields that undo rewind) and multiple levels or sections to traverse in one area.
To their credit, Stubby Games consistently introduces new features to keep the puzzles fresh while leaning into the rewind action. Besides doors, extendable bridges are activated with pressure plates. And jump, bridge and collapsible cubes are movable objects that enable players to select where they need traversal options. Combining these with the rewind function adds welcome layers to puzzle solving in levels that feature superior design.
Speaking of level design, some areas have debris on the ground or are in a state of collapse. That debris can be rewound back to its original state, and will factor in to platforming options to maneuver through the area. The amount of options and ingenuity on display is impressive, and while I’d love to get into puzzle design I’m going to avoid giving away any more detail on that front to keep from spoiling the game, as the joy of discovery is part of what makes The Entropy Centre so fun.
It’s worth noting that I'm playing the game on Steam Deck, and although it’s not a verified game as of this writing, the default Steam controls work well. Basic controls include left stick for movement, right for camera, Y to interact and B to jump/select. HED controls are Y to pickup objects, X to launch objects and R2 to rewind time (it also will charge electric panels). The game functions as a FPS, needing players to target objects close up to carry or any distance to rewind time.
Players should know that their character CAN die, in my case when I found myself in the wrong place when rewinding debris or falling into water. Death sends you to the last checkpoint, which usually isn't too far back. Then there are the restarts that might be required, for instance, when I got stuck between objects or when a jump cube I was holding while jumping successively on another jump cube just disappeared and couldn’t be retrieved from a standing (replay) button in the puzzle chamber.
Such instances have been rare and the game actually has few technical issues that I’ve encountered besides these and noticeable frame-rate drops upon entering new puzzle chambers, but they don’t impact gameplay outside of the occasional restart. Indeed, from a technical standpoint, The Entropy Centre is a quality title from its sterling gameplay to its challenging level design and quality production values that lend themselves to this failed high-tech facility.
The setting, in fact, does a good job selling the game's premise -- from overgrown foliage to a facility seemingly abandoned in mid-operation, from the sounds of birds to running water and the noises of collapsing infrastructure or fracturing Earth. Our planet, as it turns out, is the figurative and literal backdrop for much of the goings-on. Astra and collectible emails reveal the emerging catastrophe while space-station views of Earth show its unfolding fate.
The story thus far has provided a solid foundation for the puzzle-solving action, as entropy generated by puzzle solutions not only powers the station but factors into the Earth's fate. The game does a good job of doling out information while the score is at times subdued or suspenseful but always entertaining. At eight acts and multiple hours in, the puzzles keep me entertained without frustrating, the story remains compelling and the pacing has been good with new features regularly introduced.
Initial comparisons to seminal puzzle game Portal are not misplaced but, to the credit of Stubby Games, The Entropy Centre boldly breaks new ground with its innovative object rewind feature. Solving some puzzles is incredibly satisfying when so many elements are at play. And the overall mystery complements the puzzle gameplay. It's a smartly conceived and executed game so far with hours of entertainment value that I can recommend for those seeking a clever puzzle challenge.
(This post is based on a review key for the Steam version of The Entropy Centre, which released alongside other versions for PlayStation 4 & 5 and Xbox One & Series X/S on November 3.)
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