The Entropy Centre

Portal 2 is one of my favorite video games of all time. It’s one of those masterpieces that’s unrivaled in doing exactly what it does, and it’s astonishingly well-designed in pretty much every aspect. On top of all that, I have a lot of nostalgia for it because it was the first video game I wrote about in mainstream games media more than ten years ago (Cheat CC really is a horribly designed website, though). Plus, my experience picking up the physical copy of it at the game’s midnight launch was a memorable one (an experience that I wrote about here).

One of the problems with Portal 2 is that, as a puzzle game, it doesn’t have a lot of replay value. Once you’ve solved a puzzle, it’s much less enjoyable to re-solve that same puzzle over again — you’re kind of just going through the motions at that point. Replaying Portal 2 is a little bit like trying to suck the remaining orange flavor from an orange peel that you’ve already sucked on extensively.

Yeah, I don’t know what that analogy was all about… I’m in kind of a weird headspace today, so just roll with it.

The Entropy Centre

Anyway, because of this sucked-orange-peel quality, I’ve spent a lot of time wishing I could rewind time and play Portal 2 again for the first time. The Entropy Centre is the closest I will get to doing exactly that. Not only is it incredibly Portal-like in its aesthetic, sound design, sense of humor, and basic premise (first-person puzzle chambers solved with a gun), but it’s also centered around a time-rewind mechanic. While I can’t rewind time in real life, I can rewind it in The Entropy Centre, and I can also pretend I’m playing some long-forgotten version of Portal 3 (which Valve will almost certainly never get around to making).

One thing to bear in mind, of course, is that developer Stubby Games isn’t exactly playing with Valve money here. Without the caliber of voice acting that comes with being able to hand Stephen Merchant a fat stack of cash (I don’t know what he was paid for his role, but I’m certain he didn’t lend his services pro bono), or the ability to commission songs from the zany Jonathan Coulton, The Entropy Centre was never going to hit the sheer level of spectacle that Portal 2 reaches. But that doesn’t mean Stubby can’t put their cleverest foot forward and offer a puzzle-filled comedic adventure in the same vein.

And really, The Entropy Centre feels a little bit like Portal 2 with the volume turned way down. Actually, that’s not even a great analogy, because The Entropy Centre‘s sound design is probably the thing it does best. Yeah, I’m a sucker for grimy, rattly, growly synthesizers, and this game is an absolute trashcan full of the dirty, zappy, blippy sounds that I’m completely in love with. While I’m definitely developing a bad habit of turning the volume down on my video games so I can listen to YouTube videos in the background when I play, I can’t bear to do that to The Entropy Centre. The synthesizer sounds are an essential part of the experience.

The Entropy Centre - Puzzle 0701

But even if you set aside those sizzly buzzsaw synth tones, this is a very nice-sounding game. From the nostalgic thwack sound of turning on an old-school CRT monitor, to the delightfully clompy footsteps that echo through hallways, to the charming little chirps of the game’s robots, the soundscape here is incredibly well-realized.

I guess it’s more accurate to say that The Entropy Centre feels a little bit like a budget-priced version of Portal 2. There, that’s not even an analogy; that’s pretty much exactly what this game is trying to be.

So no, the writing doesn’t have that sinister, stuck-in-your-head quality to it, and the jokes aren’t as dark or as surprising or as laugh-out-loud funny. The voice acting is great, but it’s not quite Portal 2 levels of great. The set design is fantastic, with some truly awe-inspiring sights — especially when you get small peeks at the exploding Earth through windows or blasted-out holes in a concrete wall — but the game tends to feel a bit more claustrophobic when compared with the endlessly huge feeling of Portal 2.

The Entropy Centre

Some of the puzzles are fiendishly clever, and the game is at its best when it’s delivering those multi-faceted head-scratchers that are oh-so-satisfying to solve. But these puzzles aren’t always firing on all cylinders, and I can’t help but feel like they err on the side of introducing new elements rather than exploring those elements to their fullest potential. I was waiting for the grand moment where all of the various puzzle elements (mostly various types of cubes with different functions) would come together and offer a balls-to-the-wall insane batch of damn-near-unsolvable puzzles. But that never happened.

In fact, when I completed the game for the first time, it just started over back at the beginning. I didn’t unlock a set of hidden puzzle chambers, or harder versions of the puzzles I’d already completed (like Portal 1). There’s a Chapter Selection option in the menu that remained greyed out, even after completing the game (it’s possible this was intentionally left out of the review build and will be patched in later, but I guess I don’t really see the purpose in handling it this way).

As you can see, I can’t help but compare The Entropy Centre to Portal 2. And it doesn’t seem like Stubby Games is trying to avoid those comparisons at all. The result is a very competent — and undeniably enjoyable — game experience that feels a bit watered down because it’s perpetually living in the shadow of one of the greatest video games ever made.

The Entropy Centre

Sans a Portal 3, this really is the best we’re going to get — at least for the foreseeable future. I am glad that someone is attempting to fill the void, but it’s a huge void and The Entropy Centre is nowhere near big enough to fill it on its own. It is, however, an echoey, flat-footed step in the right direction.

Hell, if we can see this turn into a full-fledged franchise, it’s likely we’ll see The Entropy Centre 3 before Portal 3. And I can definitely get behind that.

Disclaimer: I was given a review code for The Entropy Centre on Xbox Series S, but the opinions expressed in this article are my own.

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