From the studio behind Life Is Strange and Vampyr comes another narrative-driven tale filled with twists and turns, but just how well does it stand out amongst Dontnod’s other star-studded titles?
After waking up in a hotel room bleary-eyed and covered in blood with no memories of the previous night, we’re immediately presented with a sense of dread and a conundrum on our hands: why are we covered in blood, who’s blood is it, and most importantly, how? There is absolutely no shortage of intrigue here, but we’ll return to this a little later.
Returning to a chapter in your life that you think you’ve closed is never an easy decision, but it’s one that investigative journalist Sam Higgs had to make. From the outset, Twin Mirror establishes this well; two years after he left, Sam is apprehensive about returning to his home of Basswood, West Virginia, to attend the funeral of his friend Nick who died in a tragic car accident.
As soon as you enter Basswood, it becomes evident that Sam isn’t liked amongst the townsfolk. As we slowly learn, Basswood is an old mining town, and after Sam published an article about the shady nature of the mine, it was forced to close down. The residents of Basswood didn’t take too kindly to Sam’s article and blamed the sudden downfall of the mine on him. The tension is immediately apparent as you get to know some of the townspeople, but this is unfortunately as far as the development for some of the residents of Basswood goes. Sam knows immediately that details regarding his friend’s sudden death don’t feel right, and after the wake, we are faced with waking up in the same hotel room we saw at the very beginning of the game; covered in blood, with more questions than answers. Now, he’s more determined than ever to uncover the truth about Nick and the town of Basswood.
The sudden death of Nick weighs heavy on the minds of not only Sam, but the residents of Basswood too, and it’s up to you as you reconcile with old acquaintances how these relationships evolve. Twin Mirror is a ‘choose your own adventure’ narrative, much like Dontnod’s other works in the past. To further complicate your decision making, as well as eat away at Sam’s already fragile mental state, Sam has an imaginary twin that only he can perceive. Referred to only as “Him”, the twin acts as Sam’s conscience of sorts, especially during moments when he is overwhelmed and emotionally detached from the situation. The twin acts as both an angel and a devil on Sam’s shoulders, and when he’s involved you can listen to him and follow his route or ignore him completely—again, it is your choice.
Sam displays a very unique and intriguing ability early on in Twin Mirror, manifesting as something he calls his ‘Mind Palace’—and I’m sure if you were a fan of the Sherlock series from the early 2010s you’ll recognise this concept immediately. Essentially, Sam is able to enter a memory-like world in his own consciousness which allows him to relive his memories based on linked items he comes across in the world. Using his skills as a journalist, he is able to form his own hypotheses about certain objects regarding their importance to his investigations and choose between several options that formulate as a result. As you begin to piece the convoluted puzzle together, Sam’s Mind Palace can begin to morph depending on the situation he finds himself in. Some variants I came across included Sam struggling to cope with his growing anxiety and fears about Nick’s death which resulted in sudden chase scenes and the pristine crystalline environment morphing into a pitch-black void as he tries to escape his own mind.
Unfortunately for Twin Mirror, this is about as interesting as the plot gets. As you use the Mind Palace more to reconstruct different sequences within the story, a similar pattern begins to emerge. For example, when Sam is investigating the site of Nick’s crash, you are able to choose different variables that could have caused the accident that all play out in Sam’s head. Although there is a wide variety of conclusions Sam can draw from the scenario, only one of them is ever correct and will advance you further. This ends up causing a situation where you end up simply clicking and swapping variables until you get the scenario correct instead of working out your own conclusions as to what happened. This is the case with every choice that Sam faces, and it does get old after a while. The evidence gathering situations fall under a similar pace, and it results in you simply pacing around an area you can’t leave until you’ve ticked every possible scenario box. It doesn’t exactly help when Sam narrates every click with terribly obvious insight.
These scenes are what makes Twin Mirror feel so slow-paced. With these types of narrative games, each decision you make is supposed to feel as though it has a consequence, and it doesn’t always feel like Twin Mirror’s choices hold the same weight as other titles like Life Is Strange, for example. This isn’t exactly helped much by the side characters that Sam interacts with. Outside of his ‘twin’ and Anna, a lot of the characters you meet show up once and are never seen again, and Twin Mirror definitely suffers because of this—the characters simply don’t hold much emotional importance to become memorable.
Whilst Twin Mirror does hold some intriguing plotlines, it certainly doesn’t live up to its full potential. It offers a wide variety of choices, branching options and multiple endings both good and bad in nature, but it simply doesn’t allow enough time to build up enough momentum to keep it going. This ends up resulting in characters with basic development and not enough plot suspense in what is meant to be a narrative uncovering the mystery of a murder.
It’s frustrating at best because Twin Mirror clearly has all the hallmarks of a Dontnod classic. The graphics are beautiful and the atmosphere is exactly what I would expect if I were suddenly dropped into a small town in West Virginia. The music is exactly what you would expect from a narrative adventure and does add a lot to the immersion of the plot itself. The tension between Sam and his double is arguably the best-produced aspect of Twin Mirror, and the inclusion of his Mind Palace provides an excellent change of pace and scenery and helps to build Sam’s complexity.
With a solid 5+ hours of gameplay and multiple endings and collectables, Twin Mirror does have potential if you’re looking for a narrative adventure from Dontnod with some unique elements. If you’re a fan of Life Is Strange, you will definitely find aspects within Twin Mirror that are similar enough to enjoy, but overall, Twin Mirror doesn’t quite stick its landing as well as other narratives like it.