Return to your home town and investigate your old friend’s death in Twin Mirror.
Dontnod Entertainment haven’t been around terribly long, but have already gained quite a reputation. Whilst games like Remember Me and Vampyr certainly have their charms, they’re far better known for their choice-driven narrative adventures: Life is Strange and its sequel. It seems that they’re trying to stick to their guns with their new release, psychological thriller Twin Mirror. Dontnod were kind enough to offer us a code to try it out, and as a fan of this genre, I was more than happy to give it a go.
You play as Sam Higgs, a former reporter from the small American town of Basswood. He left two years ago after writing an article that closed the local mine, leading to him being vilified by the locals. Upon hearing of the death of his old friend Nick, Sam returns to the town for the wake and runs into a number of people from his past, including Nick’s daughter who seems to think that Nick’s death wasn’t the accident the police claim it was. Sam gets drunk, passes out, and wakes up in his hotel room with his shirt covered in blood.
The set up for Twin Mirror is pretty interesting. You’re introduced to your character and his ‘twin’, known only as Him, who helps Sam understand how to handle social situations which he seems to struggle with. You’ll interact with a number of interesting characters — with Him being a particular highlight — early on, and gain access to Sam’s Mind Palace where he can recall memories and analyse information. There’s a lot to like here, and I was interested quite quickly.
This being a Dontnod game, you may not be surprised to know that choice is a major factor in how the plot develops. You’ll choose who to speak to and how to respond, resulting in considerably different conversational outcomes depending on what you say, although these outcomes don’t seem to make a huge difference to the progression of the plot. Other choices will have a significant impact on how things play out however, and these are clearly identified. Will you promise to protect someone as you investigate, or keep them as far away from events as possible?
Beyond exploring the (fairly small) environments and talking to the locals, you’ll also need to investigate scenes and plan your movements in more action-heavy events. This takes place in Sam’s Mind Palace and will have you piecing together clues to work out a sequence of events by altering who you think was there and what actions they may have taken. This reminded me of The Sinking City and its investigations, and I enjoyed these bits considerably. They weren’t difficult and there’s no fail state, but I felt a degree of satisfaction for solving them. These only crop up a handful of times though, and I’d have preferred a few more of them to enjoy.
That’s Twin Mirror’s problem all over though, there’s not a lot to it. Clocking in at around six hours for a playthrough, there really isn’t much time to get to know the characters or for the plot to develop any depth. I met a character in the local pharmacy who I managed to annoy and expected it to come back to haunt me later, but I never saw them again. What purpose did this interaction really serve? The idea of choice and consequence in games of this ilk is great, but only if there’s time for those choices to develop any real meaning. The plot feels rushed as you come to the finale almost out of nowhere, and resolve it equally as quickly.
With that said, there are multiple endings as is often the case in Dontnod’s games. I reached two conclusions, which were quite different but didn’t really reveal anything new to the story. It’s a shame, as these are normally strengths for this developer, and I was really looking forward to a game that used those strengths with a thriller as its plot.
There are some good visuals on show at least. The environments look nice, with the Mind Palace during Sam’s occasional panic attacks being especially atmospheric. There’s occasional texture pop-in though, which is pretty common with games running on Unreal Engine 4, but I’d have hoped it wouldn’t be an issue on Xbox Series X. Character models look good, but have slightly stilted animations during conversation. That said, the voice work and music are great and stand out as a strong point in Twin Mirror’s presentation.
Whilst I liked Twin Mirror’s setup and the characters, it doesn’t live up to what it could have been. It feels like Dontnod wanted to make a larger game but weren’t able to for some reason. Because there’s so little time spent on developing most of the characters, any big reveals about them fall quite flat and so the story suffers as a consequence. I wouldn’t object to a return to this world, especially if Him could be a returning character in some capacity, but as it stands it’s hard to recommend Twin Mirror unless you’re a die-hard narrative choice game fan.