The established Flash developers at Dissolute Productions have finally released Epsilon, a casual portal-physics game that's been in production for 14 months. Originally, the developers planned its release to coincide with Valve's Portal, although it obviously stayed in development a bit longer than expected. Perhaps that's a good thing, because the result is a well-polished game with concepts paralleling the flash version of Portal, as well as other titles like Shift 2 and Cursor*10. Instead of being a simple portal manipulation game, Epsilon explores two other physical properties aside from spatial relativity; time and gravity.
Epsilon employs the same humorous test-subject theme that we've seen in Portal, Shift 2 and Falling Forever. Your job is to manipulate an orb to collect energy points and make it to the goal before time runs out. The story's a little thin compared to the heavy, theoretical physics-based theme of the game. However, the loading screen displays a brief summary of the real-life Large Hadron Collider experiment, perhaps offering the game as an homage to the research that's currently being done.
Epsilon features 35 levels across five modules (sections), not including a brief tutorial to help you get acquainted with your new wormhole-controlling dashboard. The first section is devoted to moving wormholes from place to place in order to guide your orb around, collecting energy points before you can exit the level via the goal portal. Each stage is a two-dimensional layout with open spaces and barriers. Wormholes can only catch the orb on edges of the level with an opening. The ball begins by following the traditional laws of physics, being subject to gravity and momentum. In later stages when things get a little more difficult, you'll find yourself madly bouncing the orb against walls and barriers to manipulate its trajectory with the wormholes.
Controls are simple: just use the mouse to click and grab the wormholes, allowing you to drag them around the edge of the screen. Pressing and holding [space] lets you suspend your orb in time, which serves two purposes. First, it lets you halt the action so that you can get portals in position before the orb reaches them. Secondly, it stops the level timer, giving you time to think about your next move. Since you're timed throughout levels, you've got to figure out how to complete the puzzle as quickly as you can or else the level will restart. You also have the convenient option of enabling an auto-freeze in the config menu, which will freeze the ball any time you begin to move a wormhole. It allows less button-pushing, but in later levels, you might find that you need the tactile control of using the spacebar.
Epsilon includes an interesting element called "ghost rooms" that can be turned on or off. When activated, you'll see semi-transparent copies of the level surrounding your room. These ghost rooms swivel around your real room as you move the wormholes around, giving you a virtual view of where the orb will move based on locations of the wormholes.
In later levels you'll be able to manipulate your little space-time continuum even further, to the point of reversing time and manipulating gravity. In levels that it's allowed, you can use the [X] key to stop time and reverse all your actions back to your starting point, with the clocked rolled back to zero. Any energy points you collected will still be in your possession, allowing you to utilize the time-reversal to collect energy and make it to the goal in a time-frame that you wouldn't be able to otherwise. You'll also get to use gravity shifters, stationary rifts, and more.
Analysis: The direction that many of these Portal-inspired casual games are going in is an exciting one. We're beginning to see more action/puzzle games that think outside the box, employing real-life game mechanics like physics, space and time. Whether it's just a fad or casual gamers are hungry for brainier games, it's opening up a new genre of gaming that exercises the mind while still offering an action component instead of just solving static puzzle after puzzle.
Epsilon deserves special attention for its spit-shine graphics polish and catchy soundtrack, not to mention an intuitive control system that doesn't get in the way of solving the puzzles. The main drawback is that although your current section is auto-saved, there's no way to return to the exact level you were playing if you leave. You'll have to start that section over from the beginning, an annoying setback that could have easily been solved by an unlockable level selector. That withstanding, Epsilon marks another successful Portal-inspired flash game of its kind, attractive to any action-puzzle fan.