Week two of the third Indie Games Uprising began with a radio blaring out D:Ream’s smash-hit record, “Things Can Only Get Better.” Of course, in reality we know it to be false. This is Xbox LIVE Indie Games and things can always, always get worse.
But luckily Sententia had already been released so there’s every chance that D:Ream were on to something there. All of which is a roundabout way of saying that Entropy isn’t a very good start to the second week of the Uprising. Sure, we could have just started the review with “Entropy isn’t very good,” but for every person that is reminded of the aforementioned club classic and downloads it on iTunes, the band probably gets something like one pence, and eventually Brian Cox will have enough pennies to shoot himself into space or something. We’re practically doing the Lord’s work here.
Space is a dark and dreary place, but compared to Entropy it’s a flowing meadow full of tulips and beautiful girls running towards you in slow motion. Entropy is ugly, looking like a Playstation 2 game at best, and it’s technically deficient too with frame rate drops all present and correct. Xbox LIVE Indie Games isn’t a platform in which graphics matter that much, but the darkness really negatively impacts the experience. Time and time again you’ll look around for some way of solving the current puzzle and you’ll be stuck, simply because you can’t see further than a few feet in front of yourself as everything fades to black. Other times you’ll find the end of puzzles by falling down holes you hadn’t even realised you’d opened because they’re all but invisible.
Entropy is a puzzle game, then. If Gateways was Portal in 2D, Entropy is Portal with the portals removed. And the style. And the personality. And the clear objectives. And, well, it’s lacking basically anything that made Portal good. Like puzzle design, for example.
Pretend for a moment that you can see the whole of the puzzle you’re trying to solve. In Portal, you can’t lose. No matter what you do, a puzzle will always have a solution available because the design is clever enough to make its solutions difficult to find and yet impossible to break while the player is experimenting. Not so in Entropy. Tackle one in the wrong order, or burn away a ball of water, or various other things, and you’re left with a puzzle you can’t solve and no suggestion that you can’t solve it. It means struggling for ages in impossible situations. The game features a driving-game-style “rewind” feature that lets you go backwards if you mess up, but it’s completely useless if you don’t realise that you’ve messed up (and why would you?) and even if you do use it, it can take minutes to rewind to a convenient place before the messing-up started.
The puzzles are rarely interesting enough to warrant the effort, either. They range from pushing balls from one place to another, to pushing different kinds of balls to different places, and at no point can pushing a ball in a first-person view be described as “fun.” You’re rarely in control, tending just to hope for the best. You can tweak gravity later on but your goal remains the same and it always begs the same question: why the hell am I doing this? There’s nothing in the way of story to compel you forward, no narrative, no desire to see what’s coming next because what’s coming next looks as dull as where you are now and contains another puzzle as boring.
If you can see it.
The problem with Entropy isn’t always that it’s a bad game, it’s just that it’s the dullest, most boring game to be released since the last game that was really dull and boring. Mass Effect 3, probably. There’s nothing at all that makes you want to keep playing, there’s nothing that makes you want to see what comes next, there’s nothing at all to recommend this, even at 80 Microsoft Points, because all it offers is a feeling of endless emptiness – a bit like space, then.