I love puzzle games and after the success of the Portal games we have been seeing numbers of first person, physics based puzzle games hit the market. Entropy Rising is one of these games. There’s no story, just puzzles which is great because the experience isn’t weighed down by the baggage of a protagonist with some great mission.
I do like stories in games, but in a game like this it would have just come across as arbitrary and unnecessary; sometimes you just want to put on a movie you’ve already seen and relax with some brain teasers, which Entropy Rising provides nicely.
There is a total of 33 levels in this game, each with puzzles of varying difficulty. The game ran smoothly with only a few frame drops here and there. I played with a controller which it seems was programmed in an after-thought because all the button prompts were for a keyboard alone, I played a beta so this will probably be fixed in a patch, thankfully the controls were simple enough that you don’t really need any tutorials.
The game offers support through little CRT screens sprinkled throughout most levels, but you don’t really need them because the mechanics and controls are simple enough to understand, it’s nice that they’re there though (I’ve got to hand it to the developers for not insulting our intellect with large obnoxious tutorial prompts, it’s up to you if you want help understanding the controls).
The whole game revolves around manipulating gravity to move spheres of different materials around the stage onto platforms that open up different sections and to holes that drop you down to the next level. You manipulate gravity with a gun that when shot at blue surfaces creates a big bubble of gravity that pulls anything within the bubble to the centre. You can move the bubbles around any blue surface or you can just stick them to the wall where they degrade after a short amount of time and disappear. Some of the different types of spheres cannot interact with each other which makes the whole bubble mechanic quite interesting because there are points where you have to manoeuvre different types of spheres around the same wall, meaning you have to carefully utilize both the moving bubbles and the stationary bubbles within the time limits of their degradation.
Because you are working with rolling spheres you have to be very precise, a lot of the time frustratingly precise. Have you ever emptied a bag of marbles onto your floor and found it’s impossible not to lose some of them as they rolled under the couch or outside? This is the kind of frustration Entropy Rising brings out in a person. Sometimes you have to manoeuvre a sphere along a thin path which can provide a tedious amount of screw ups, luckily the game fixes this with a time reversal mechanic. When you die, instead of returning to a checkpoint or restarting the level you can just reverse time back to before you were in danger. Entropy Rising is one of the rare games where this mechanic isn’t a detriment because it shaves off the unnecessary back-tracking without removing the stakes. The game isn’t about surviving, it’s about solving puzzles so why should I have to go back to the start just because I dropped a stupid water ball.
The cool thing about the time mechanic is that it’s completely in the hand of the player, so how far you go back and how many times you want to try a segment is completely up to you.
The difficulty of the puzzles don’t seem to follow any kind of progression. The first few levels are extremely simple, just to get you used to the controls, then every time you finish a level after that it’s a gamble as on whether or not you’re going to get an easy or hard level, it’s also a gamble whether or not you’re going to get a big or small level. Some levels are massive with multiple segments all with their own unique puzzles, then there’s a level that’s just one room with two paths, one leading to the exit and the other leading to death. Having the progression this way sort of made the whole game blur together with no real indication as to what order the levels went in. I can’t help but think this was a sneaky way for the developers to put in some pretty uninspired levels without the player catching them. Most of the levels were unique and memorable but there were a few that were just plain dull and had you doing things you had already done before; that being said, Entropy Rising can be proud of the puzzles it did right.
I didn’t find myself stuck at any point, but I did find myself engaged almost the whole time. The puzzles are stimulating in that you have to think of clever ways to pull them off instead of figuring out an answer. At some point you are introduced to the ‘tilter’ which is a machine that lets you tilt the gravity of the whole room in any direction and one of the levels is just a big ball-in-a-maze puzzle which I think is a perfect example of the style of puzzle this game provides.
The thing I found lacking in this game is how the whole thing felt. It’s quite dark and gloomy with little colour and unchanging texture. It feels like you’re some kind of prisoner being forced to finish the puzzles instead of an intrigued puzzle solver, making it feel too much like a Portal clone; but where Portal has context and style, Entropy Rising has nothing but feel. You can feel the music as much as you want but if you have no rhythm your drumming is going to make people tear their ears off.
The first level and last level have a cool theme where it sets you in space, where you get to finish the puzzles surrounded by stars; but the rest of the game is set in uninteresting and poorly lit hallways and rooms. This would have been fixed with some kind of unique theme or even some windows here and there to look out at the stars. Its tone coupled with a rather basic presentation just made the game feel lifeless. Instead of trying to attract the Portal fans, they should have tried to sculpt their own style.
The music was alright. It provided the game with a certain type of ambience that compliments the puzzle solving.
Although feeling lifeless and stale, Entropy Rising is still a fun game. It was still fun solving the puzzles because they were designed well, with a level of wit to keep your synapses sparking. Entropy Rising is not a very long game, which is a good thing. It took me a few hours to finish every stage and I feel like if it had been any longer I would have grown very tired of it. The game is self-aware so it knows when to stop before it gets annoying; that’s not to say there isn’t replay value though. Every level has added extra challenges, that are impossible to do on your first attempt, that give completionists a lot more to do (there are also very well hidden collectables, I didn’t find a single hidden painting on my first play-through). I had a lot of fun with Entropy Rising but that’s because I’m a puzzle fiend. If you’re not into puzzles then this game isn’t for you, but if you are then it’s adequate enough for me to call it a good puzzle game.
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