Developer: DONTNOD Entertainment
Publisher: DONTNOD Entertainment
Genre: Investigation, Narrative, Adventure,
Platform: PS4 (Played on PS5 via backwards-compatibility)
Age Rating: PEGI 16
Release Date: 01/12/2020
A code was provided from DONTNOD for review purposes.
Developer DONTNOD has an impressive history of creating story-rich adventures that feature a protagonist with unique abilities. In Twin Mirror, our hero is Sam Higgs; a journalist with powers of the mind. Does DONTNOD’s latest game present an intriguing mystery or is this one best left unsolved? Find out in this Rapid Review.
Country roads, take me home
At the beginning of Twin Mirror, our hero Sam must return to his quiet American hometown of Basswood due to a tragedy. Returning, he experiences rejection and resentment from many of the townsfolk. The reasoning for this resentment is initially left as a mystery and is revealed with titbits of dialogue from the townsfolk and narration from Sam himself.
Early in the game, Sam visits the town’s bar and sees a crowded room, friends (or enemies) with tired eyes. Since Sam’s return had been less than warm, I was half expecting him to be hiding from someone and their soul of ice. It is a familiar scenario, but it does achieve its goal of highlighting those with a fondness for the journalist and those who would much rather see Sam packing up his bags at the first instance and never returning to Basswood again. The store page asks whether there are any unsolved mysteries in the quiet town of Basswood,? This question appears to be rhetorical with a short answer of a resounding ‘yes’. After all, what is a mystery-investigation game without an investigation to … investigate?
Throughout this review, I’ll keep all information spoiler-free with vague alludes to the events of the town. I went into this game without even watching a trailer and my only knowledge derives from the developer-supplied press-kit. Likewise, I recommend to everybody, like with any games from the mystery/detective genre, you too should avoid spoilers about Twin Mirror.
Whereas Dontnod’s Life is Strange features supernatural powers, Twin Mirror deals with its abilities differently. The game still features powers but without the “super” prefix. We’re presented with a physical manifestation of Sam’s subconscious who is simply referred to as “him”. This Him serves as a character of rationale, an imaginary friend who Sam can talk to but of whom those around him are unaware. “Him”, or to be more grammatically correct, he, helps Sam speak to those around him with dialogue prompts.
There are several moments throughout the game where I was given the choice of listening to “Him’s” thoughts or making a decision of my own. Presumably, the choices made in these scenarios shape the ending of the game. Unfortunately, although there are decisions to be made, I never felt as if my choices were particularly impactful or poignant. The choices I made did not evoke any emotion, no regrets, or post-choice deliberations. It’s a real shame as I was hoping for an emotionally wild ride but without the highs and lows needed in these narrative-games, the overall emotion fell flat.
The power of the mind
In addition to the power of seeing your innermost thoughts, Sam is also able to enter the mind palace. The mind palace is a technique you may be familiar with. Last year, I attended a mind palace workshop which was incredibly interesting. The basic technique is that you visualise a place you are familiar with and then place knowledge and facts around the room. Need to memorise an equation, why not write that on your door? To demonstrate, in the workshop I attended, we were taught how to memorise the prime ministers of England. As a result, in my mind, I was walking around my house, seeing James Callaghan on my doorstep, some thatched straw on my bookshelf. It’s certainly an abstract way of thinking but I do recommend having a look at a video or two regarding this subject.
Twin mirror features the mind palace as a construction of his inner thoughts. It’s half Control’s astral pane and half recollections of Sam’s memories. I enjoyed the design of these sequences. There is something about these futuristic designs with floating glass panels drifting in the distance, that I really like seeing.
To enter the mind palace, there are several sections where clues must be “collected” which you then assemble in the mind palace. Unfortunately, this clue-collecting process feels over arduous because all of the ‘clues’ in the area, even those that don’t help with the investigation, must be collected.
This wouldn’t be too much of a problem however, each ‘clue’ has a minuscule white dot which you need to expertly hover over by adjusting the camera’s direction, tentatively nudging the joystick to the precise spot. Once this long process was complete then I was able to travel to the mind palace and like mentioned previously, I did like the design and atmosphere of this area but the prior overly intricate process dampened my experience. When the investigation parts of an investigation game left me feeling annoyed, then – like the town of Basswood – something is not quite right!
Greetings from Basswood
On the plus side, Twin Mirror looks visually fantastic. The art style is a fantastic blend of painted brush strokes and realism. Furthermore, the game boasts fantastic environment design and lighting effects, it was a pleasure to walk around the small, secluded town of Basswood.
Character designs were also good, but it seems as if Dontnod has embraced their lack of lip-syncing as a feature. For most of the game, the dialogue did not match up with the speaker. I didn’t find this too much of an issue as the voice acting manages to get the emotion across, however, I can see it creating a strong sense of detachment for others.
A mystery worth solving?
Overall, Twin Mirror’s excellent graphics and environment design are let down by its unimpactful choices and mediocre mystery. It does successfully deliver a narrative, but it is one that feels wholly underwhelming. Twin Mirror isn’t a terrible game per se, but I’d recommend waiting for a sale.
You can purchase Twin Mirror for £24.99 on the PS Store
You can find and read our reviews on OpenCritic.