Review: Twin Sector

ts_3d_front.jpg By now most PC gamers have played or at least seen or heard about Portal, Valve’s classic 2007 first-person puzzle game that was released as part of The Orange Box. That excellent game featured physics and altered reality in the form of a Portal gun, and gamers flocked to the thought-provoking gameplay. Now along comes Twin Sector, a first-person, physics-based puzzle action-adventure game. Is this the next great thing? Is this the evolution of Portal? Are you kidding me?

Actually, if someone had told me that Twin Sector was a 2003 game that was inspired by the Force Push / Pull of Star Wars games and the latest incarnation of the Havok physics engine, I would have been impressed. I would have thought that the graphics looked decent, the physics worked pretty well, and the overall execution of a puzzle-based approach to ‘find the keycard / fuse / whatever’ gameplay worked fairly well as an early concept, if not as a fully realized game.

That would all have been true … if this were 2003, or maybe even 2004.

But once Half-Life 2 came along, with the integrated gimmick–ermm…I mean gravity-gun–developers needed to do a little more than just a proof of concept. And once you are beyond the ‘proof of cool technical capability’ point, you really need to do something in terms of putting together a plausible story and setting. Based on evaluating it through that lens, Twin Sector is unfortunately a terrible game.

I am very forgiving of graphics, especially from smaller developers, so I am not overly critical of Twin Sector in that regard. That said, if you are expecting a late 2009 game focused around a first-person puzzle-solving action-gaming experience to have thoroughly modern graphics, you will be disappointed. In terms of static presentation – particularly looking at the protagonist Ashley – things don’t look terrible. But in motion none of it works well at all. The character animations are jerky and sometimes uncomfortable to watch and really make the game feel even more dated.

The audio quality is no better: the music is sparse and generic, the environmental sounds all sound the same and become monotonous very quickly. And in another nod to being a lower budget European game, I am not going to dump on the translations too badly – though they are poor, I was never unable to figure out what was said. (A Farewell to Dragons was so bad I occasionally ended up with incorrect instructions!) The voice acting, however, is inexcusable – it was very poorly done and lacks any sort of personality. At that point they would have been better off not bothering with voice-overs at all.

The level and area designs are terribly contrived and even nonsensical at times, with an obvious sense of ‘this is here so we can make a puzzle out of it’ around every corner. The amount of killer laser beam traps in a cryogenic human storage facility is staggering. Everything that happens is wrapped around the pair of gloves – one that pushes, the other that pulls – you get at the beginning of the game. You need to grab items, use the gloves to make impossible leaps, stack items, and on and on. It seems like an intriguing premise, but within thirty minutes you discover that the core design is not about creating thought provoking puzzles but frustrating ‘die and retry’ challenges.

But the biggest offense is the physics system. While I appreciate that the game tries to make use of physics to solve puzzles, very little of it makes any sense. Heavy things fly around as if they are weightless, solid objects bounce and fly about, things that would normally break under falls don’t, and so on. Generally it has little impact on the gameplay, except when trying to do something with objects that aren’t behaving properly. There are a few nice moments when you are solving puzzles that are tricky, or when navigating the room without any gravity, but they are too few and far between.

As I said at the start, this game would have made a very nice proof of concept in 2003 or 2004, but is a failure in 2010. While I am willing to forgive many things in unique small-shop games, the combination of mediocre graphics, bland design, terrible voice acting and dialogue, listless production values, erratic puzzles, and inconsistent physics is just too much for me to tolerate. The game has dropped quickly in price, and will likely be available on Steam for $5 before long. At that point, if you have already tried the demo and are for some reason STILL itching to play, you might not be too disappointed in the money you spent. Otherwise just stay far away.

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Pros:
+ Nice use of physics in spots
+ Plenty of puzzles

Cons:
– Dated graphics
– Inane story
– Contrived gameplay
– Inconsistent physics
– Terrible dialogue
– Bland voice-overs

Game Info:
Platform: PC
Publisher: Got Game Entertainment/Headup Games
Developer: DnS Development
Release Date: Steam – 12/5/09, Retail – 1/12/2010
Genre: Action/Adventure
ESRB Rating: E10+
Players: 1
Source: Review code provided by publisher

About the Author

I have loved technology for as long as I can remember - and have been a computer gamer since the PDP-10! Mobile Technology has played a major role in my life - I have used an electronic companion since the HP95LX more than 20 years ago, and have been a 'Laptop First' person since my Compaq LTE Lite 3/20 and Powerbook 170 back in 1991! As an avid gamer and gadget-junkie I was constantly asked for my opinions on new technology, which led to writing small blurbs ... and eventually becoming a reviewer many years ago. My family is my biggest priority in life, and they alternate between loving and tolerating my gaming and gadget hobbies ... but ultimately benefits from the addition of technology to our lives!