Indie Games Uprsing III Review: Entropy – Portal minus the portals

The Indie Games Uprising III has succumbed to Entropy; no not the thermodynamic property of cooling down (to overly simplify), but rather a Portal inspired indie game by the same name. Entropy has you solving various puzzles in a first person platformer that earns its name in multiple ways.

The most obvious way Entropy earns its moniker is that the game deals with various properties and how they react to one another. Everything breaks down most simply into rock, water, acid and fire but all four interact with each other to various degrees and all are affected by gravity.  Push a cold rock up against a molten fireball and some of the fireball’s heat will be transferred to the rock, leaving two objects that are about half as hot as the original fireball. Acid corrupts water (or the acid is watered down depending on your view point) when the two touch, and acid and water both cool the fire balls at the cost of their own volume (both also conduct electricity).  All of these traits come into play in Entropy’s puzzles, which are based almost entirely on how the different properties interact in some form.

All of Entropy’s puzzles revolve around getting a certain number of one property into a certain area that measures weight/ph/heat in order to energize a connector that will in turn reveal the path ahead.  There are several different variations on this, and a few clever tricks, but ultimately the goal is always the same.  In this, Entropy does start to cool down pretty quickly; actually, in spite of its name it actually starts very cool and unexpectedly heats up at various times.

Hand holding? You bet.

Entropy is by and large the exact opposite of Gateways in terms of difficulty. Where Gateways never really holds your hand (it either does it for you or it doesn’t do much of anything), Entropy starts off painfully simple in an attempt to lean you into the mechanics of the game.  While this is appreciated, and a tutorial wouldn’t have worked in the game’s style as is, it takes way too long to get to the meat of it; As in nearly half the game.  Most reviewers seem to have stopped around level 10 (out of 26) in their playthroughs, and that is because around level 10 it really starts to drag on in its simplicity. Entropy does pick up shortly after though, in fact some of the levels will have you scratching your head for some time only to realize how simple the solution really was. Case and point, I wasted nearly an hour trying to solve one puzzle only to figure out that I had been working in the opposite direction the entire time and then quickly solved it in a matter of a couple minutes.  Entropy really does have some clever moments later on.

Entropy is also one of the most visually stunning XBLIG’s to date, and almost certainly the best 3D one.  There are some framerate issues now and then, but it is still a fantastic technical display visually; and the fireballs actually just look like they would be hot to the touch.  The visuals are really fairly simple, and much to Autotivity’s credit, they recognized this and worked within those parameters. Most everything involves simple geometric shapes, meaning that rather than having more complex but so-so visuals from time to time; it keeps it simple but great looking.  It does look a bit better in screenshots than in action, but anyone who complains about how it looks is really just reaching (and there are things much more worthy of criticizing). Side note: how does such a beautiful looking game end up with such horrible cover art?

At some point this was the cover, not sure why it changed…

The game does have two major downsides that keep it from reaching that extra level of greatness. One is that there are some definite glitches in game play and game design. Foremost, the physics sometimes just doesn’t play well with others, namely you. Multiple times I had a puzzle set right and it just didn’t work so I had to remove a rock and then re-add it for the game to recognize that I had solved it. Combine that with the fact that it is very easy to push a ball the wrong way due to somewhat clumsy controls, and it is possible to push said ball into an area where it cannot be reset. Now, a reverse time control makes this a easy fix if you know that you’ve messed up, however, if you’ve done something out of order or pushed something the wrong way but do not realize it till later; you may be boned. What’s more, restarting the level can often set you two or three complicated puzzles back depending on what level you are on. Frustrating to say the least. A simple mid-level check point system for the levels with multiple puzzles would have easily solved this.

The other main downside to Entropy is the lack of personality. It just has this dark, bland feel to it despite looking otherwise fantastic. There is no Gladdos here, no humor, no personality. In fact, my original subtitle for this review was “Portal with no personality” but felt it too harsh for the title.  If Portal and Entropy were films, Portal would be a James Cameron big budget but still full of personality type of movie, Entropy would be the darker (literally) indie film where no one talks for the first thirty minutes and there are no real characters to speak of.  Entropy is severely lacking the light-heartedness of the game it is so obviously emulating.

The cube is a lie?

Entropy doesn’t deserve a write off though. While it may be a bit bland at times (so are Cheerios, but they are still enjoyable), there is just enough cleverness in the puzzles to save the day.  In fact, one of my favorite aspects of Entropy was that quite often I wasn’t sure I was even solving the puzzle “the correct way,” at least in terms of how the developer saw someone solving it. There isn’t just one solution to every puzzle, I know because on one or two that I had to restart I solved some of the puzzles in different ways. This is something puzzle games sometimes get too hung up on (making the gamer do something in a highly specific way) and not allowing room for the gamer to find their own path.  Entropy certainly allows this, and I for one loved that aspect.

In the end, Entropy is still a significant mark above most XBLIG’s out there, and does some stuff really well, and some stuff not so well.  If the game had some character development, or even characters at all (rather than just strange glowing orbs that seem to be controlling everything rather indifferently), it would probably be a smash hit. Without all that it does drag on at times, but is full of many “Eureka!” moments that were more than enough to keep me going until completion. Worth a buck? Definitely. It should also put Autotivity on your list of developers to keep an eye on as well.

Final Rating: 7.8/10

CBR Break Down:
Console Played On
: XBLIG
Time to completion: several hours.
Gamer Score Earned: N/A
Price Bought at: 80MSP ($1)
Current Price: 80 Microsoft Points
Recommend Purchase Price: Can’t go lower!
Why you should buy it: Fantastic looking game with a mix of easy and challenging puzzles.
Why you shouldn’t buy it: You are easily bored.

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About Tristan Rendo

I've made movies, written and performed music, and in January of 2011 got bored and started the awesome gaming site you see before you. My gaming roots began with the original NES, and endless hours spent spilling quarters into machines at the local arcade. I have a personal collection of over 200 Nintendo 64 games, and for many years it was the only system I owned. I re-entered the modern generation of gaming consoles when I decided to purchase a 360. I typically prefer the single player experience of games, so I’m usually playing through some single-player campaign, but can occasionally be found doing some damage in Halo Reach.