Autotivity Entertainment is one of the more recent developers to try to leave a mark in the post-Portal game world. Their first release, Entropy, joins Gateways as two autumn XBLIG titles that borrow from that paragon of puzzlers. The inspiration can be seen throughout Entropy, and while it doesn’t quite stand toe-to-toe with Valve’s title, the atmosphere and visual quality match or surpass some of the best you’ll see in the Xbox Live Indie Games arena.
In the world of Entropy, there’s not much in the way of hand-holding when it comes to figuring out what is supposed to be done and how it’s supposed to be accomplished. Because the story begins with the limited explanation that something ‘strange’ happened, it’s no surprise that the character’s identity, purpose, and abilities are also kept a mystery. The first-person view helps further that mystery by obscuring the view of what sort of entity the player is. I don’t always enjoy games that leave the player to figure out what the hell’s going on, but the dark and mysterious atmosphere made it seem like a good fit in this instance. A shining amoeba-like creature casually draws the player in the direction they must go, but the path is typically blocked. By unlocking the opening to the next area, the game fairly literally leads the player further down the rabbit hole as he/she drops down a shaft to continue. It’s enough to make one feel claustrophobic and there’s no way to tell whether the player is ultimately making their way into or out of the unknown structure.
In order to gain access to the next area, the solution generally involves powering up energy conduits that line the walls. How this is accomplished is through orbs found throughout the levels. These orbs might be made of water, fire, and other basic elements. The non-lethal variety can be moved by making contact with them. The deadly ones can be moved through use of a gravity bubble gun that pulls all orbs within its reach to the center of the field. Sometimes the conduits are powered up by piling orbs onto a massive scale that measures weight, pH levels, or temperature. In some instances, the player simply has to figure out a way to draw electricity from an active conduit towards one that’s inactive. The most help players will typically get is an occasional image projected onto the walls that gives a subtle hint about which direction to go or if there’s a nearby danger. It’s refreshing to see a game not give away the most basic of solutions. It’s through experimentation that lessons are learned about the effects when the elemental orbs come into contact with one another. For example, douse a fire orb with enough water orbs and it turns to stone. Where Portal is generally considered a physics sandbox, Entropy combines physics with a dose of chemistry.
While discovery of both purpose and means is arguably the strongest facet of Entropy, the graphical prowess is also worth a mention. While I’m not a fan of throwing down the “for an XBLIG” caveat, Entropy really does look great for an XBLIG title. While the engine can chug a bit now and then, the dark environments contrast well with the vibrant, elemental orbs with all of it looking sharp. It’s a true rarity to see an Xbox indie studio successfully pull off a great-looking 3D environment, so kudos to Autotivity.
While Entropy does a decent job of introducing new gameplay twists every once in awhile, it’s not the kind of game that’s going to be fun for long play sessions. Many of the puzzles require precision in how you direct the orbs around hazards as well as some timing in instances where you’re suspending them over pits or open space. That level of exactness can wear on the player over time. As with a number of the puzzle games we’ve reviewed, Entropy is best enjoyed in small doses. Thankfully it’s also the kind of game that’s easy to come back to without having to get reacclimated. In fact, I took almost a month off from playing the game and had zero issues jumping right back in.
Entropy is another worthy entry in the lineup of XBLIG puzzle titles. While comparisons to Portal are inescapable, fans of that series are likely to enjoy the physics and chemistry-based fun that’s to be had. Although the game lacks the humor and character of its mainstream brother, the shrouded atmosphere is certainly worthy of a look. The puzzles themselves run the gamut from easy to pretty difficult, and only once or twice did I find myself getting really frustrated. The ever present ability to rewind time is a tool that will get a lot of use and certainly helps keep that irritation level down. Players can even skip levels if they want to. It’s inclusions like these that give the game a bit of polish, elevating it above many of its peers on the XBLIG service. Entropy is currently available in the Xbox Marketplace for 80 MSP ($1).
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