Review - Mouse investigates a twisted fantasy platform adventure game, which may or may not be set in a child's head
Are you sitting comfortably?
Through the rusting, buckled railings, beyond twisted, gnarled trees and air heavy with meandering leaves, a huge run-down mansion comes into view atop a hill. It is nighttime and a large storm hangs menacingly overhead, yet through the crashes of thunder and the pattering of rain on the sodden ground, a lonely piano can be heard picking notes out of the air. Upon further investigation, we notice we're moving towards an orphanage. Following the rain, our view proceeds down, into a drain, and from there into a bathroom. There is a child here. A boy. Still the piano plays. As the boy stares into the mirror, the door bursts open; "Cyp! What are you up to?..". And so begins Evil Twin. Cyprien is the young protagonist in this tale of a warped journey through his own imagination, where the lines between it and reality have blurred. The dilemma he finds himself in is brought on by his own misery and distorted view of the world. This night is his birthday and yet the anniversary of his parents' death, and his depression and anger brings a new twist to the world he inhabits. Himself, his friends, and his… ahem… teddy bear, Lenny, are dragged into a twisted world called Undabed, which is overrun by an evil force called Big Boss. It then becomes unclear whether Cyprien is actually inhabiting this odd world or if it's some figment of his twisted psyche. Nevertheless, on your arrival in the world as Cyp, you're greeted by an elephant. On a swing. Called Wilbur. Wilbur tells you it's your task to free the world from the wave of tyranny brought on by Big Boss by locating the pieces of the Great Zipette, the key to Big Boss' tower. Originally this task was taken on by Lenny, who it transpires is the leader of an elite resistance. After he went missing it was decided that it should be you to take his place.
Dude, this is pretty f**ked up right here!
It's after the intriguing and enchanting opening sequences that the game starts to show you it's true colours, and the fact that it's a run-of-the-mill platformer hits home extremely and disappointingly early. The emphasis is clearly on the storyline and setting, and less on creating an engaging gaming dynamic. For thrills, the game relies on the mastering of pixel-perfect leaping from the very start, and this doesn't relent for the duration. Playing the game with a keyboard is an absolute no-no because of this, and only really becomes bearable with the use of a decent analogue joypad. For this reason, Evil Twin really doesn't feel at home on the PC from the off, and I for one would be eager to see just how much more enjoyable the PS2 version is. The playing style is obviously influenced by many of the games' contemporaries, such as Rayman, Mario 64 and MDK, yet fails to be as engaging as any of them as the constant leaping quickly becomes monotonous. The short missions you occasionally partake in in order to advance your progress rarely do much to offer some respite.
Is it a bird? Is it a place?
As a 3D platformer, Evil Twin has inherited the dreaded lazy camera syndrome often associated with the genre. That you should have to keep reaching for the keyboard every few minutes to re-align the view is unforgivable. It's also because of the camera's seeming inability to keep track of the direction Cyp is travelling in that many precarious jumps lead to his unanticipated death. The character of Cyprien himself is very well designed, with a few really rather nifty tricks up his sleeve. After you initially discover his slingshot for dispatching enemies, it comes to light that you can switch to a handy first-person view for accurate aiming at distant targets. Throughout the game you have the ability to upgrade the slingshot with different powerups, including a laser sight and a bouncing-projectile mode among others. More intriguing than this, though, is Cyp's ability to transform into SuperCyp once you've collected enough of the relevant icons. This transformation into Cyprien's superhero alter-ego graces you with the ability to fly across short distances, unleash devastating fireball and lightning attacks and generally kick arse in a far more stylish fashion than vanilla Cyp.
During your travels across the games 76 levels, you come across some truly eccentric characters, and the air of oddness that they create is quite reminiscent of Lewis Carroll's naturally comparable Alice tales. In fact it could be questioned whether or not In Utero were intending for Evil Twin to be a natural genre-partner to American McGee's Alice. Of course, it comes close only in storytelling terms. For the senses, Evil Twin is an absolute delight. The eight heavily stylised worlds take obvious cues from the likes of Tim Burton's "A Nightmare Before Christmas", and the luscious texturing and detailed level design rarely fail to impress. As far as audio is concerned, Evil Twin's soundtrack is stunning. Both the more ambient incidental compositions, and the more purposeful music for cut-scenes and the like are atmospheric gems. This writer even took the liberty of incorporating a few mp3's which make up the soundtrack into his WinAmp playlist.
That all this effort couldn't have been put into something simply more engaging sends the mind boggling. In Utero only needed to take a look at the aforementioned genre rivals to see how to create a stylish yet entertaining game, but Evil Twin simply remains the former. Playing this game, we were reminded of a similar fate for the mediocre Heart of Darkness of a few years ago, and it's a shame that Ubi Soft didn't learn from the mistake that team made. To create something so beautiful, elegant and stylish, yet make it so ultimately unfulfilling is quite unforgivable.