DONTNOD drops episodic storytelling for a one-shot in a small, west coast town.
Twin Mirror is the latest from DONTNOD — the developer behind episodic titles like Life is Strange and Tell Me Why — though it diverges from its cousins by dropping a serialised format in favour of a single-instance narrative. While familiar in tone, its unique protagonist ensures a storyline with an emphasis on detective work as seen in the Batman Arkham series alongside a reliance on the mind palace, a concept that’s featured in Frogware’s Sherlock Holmes franchise.
Set in the sleepy fictional town of Basswood, protagonist Sam returns to his hometown after leaving for myriad reasons. An investigative journalist, he uncovered dodgy workplace practices at the local mine, leading it to file for bankruptcy and close up shop. Needless to say, those in the town who’ve lost their job as a result weren’t exactly thrilled with his work. While an amazing investigator, Sam’s talents come at the cost of social skills; so much so, he’s actually created a second persona whom he talks to in order to try to fit in.
Sam loses track of time speaking with his mind-self, and even more when collecting and analyzing clues in his mind palace. While it impacts his present, it’s certainly done the same in his past — his unique way of thinking placed strain on his romantic relationship with former co-worker Anna, and his stunted understanding of human emotions had him believe that an engagement proposal work sort things out. Again, his efforts weren’t appreciated. As much as Sam fled Basswood to avoid angry miners, he left to avoid dealing with his failed relationship.
Our new hero is called back to Basswood over the death of his best friend Nick, another former co-worker (and, coincidentally, Anna’s new boyfriend). Nick’s daughter Joan quickly confides in Sam that she believes he father’s death to be foul play, despite the beliefs of the local police force. Sam agrees to look into Joan’s concerns, realising the effort will mean more time in Basswood than he’s really comfortable with. After a boozy wake, Sam wakes up with a nasty hangover, suffering from memory loss… and soon finds a bloody shirt in his hotel room’s bathtub.
What follows is a mystery essentially with an A and B plot — Sam will investigate what’s happened to Nick while players try to figure out Sam and his own mind. While it sounds somewhat disjointed (and sometimes is), the investigations slowly begin to intertwine. Falling deeper and deeper into the investigation, Sam will need to deal with his mind-self, deciding whether or not to be analytical or to learn from his past and endeavor to become more personable than fact-based.
Sam’s interactions with himself come in the form of dialogue choices, both with Sam’s mind-self and with others. Sam’s bespectacled mind-self will also pop up at times and remind you of how other people would act in a situation, offering you the chance to essentially pick binary options with emotional or analytical responses. At other important points in the narrative, Sam will have to make that same binary choice, this time with each option accompanied by an icon of Sam or his mind-self. While we were unable to play through the story multiple times to hit embargo, these choices mean there are numerous endings to be unlocked by completionists.
Investigations are where Twin Mirror truly shines, a two-phase effort that first requires Sam to first scour a scene looking for clues, then delve into his mind palace to piece them all together. Sam’s able to picture a scene in his mind, working through events and seeing how they play out in various combinations before ultimately deducing what has passed. The process is quite thrilling and I’ll admit that it feels pretty good to get to the bottom of things, especially on your first pass. The downside here is that while there will be multiple endings to discover, the investigations and their single solutions will likely get repetitious the more you play.
While there are flashback scenes and some dialogue from NPCs that directly address Sam and his mindset, DONTNOD dances around any notions of a diagnosis. Largely, the way that Sam is handled leaves a player uncomfortable, especially during instances when Sam’s mind-self tells… well, himself… that the way he acts isn’t right. After such an expert handling of transgender issues in Tell Me Why, I’m left feeling that DONTNOD has dropped the ball with this one. If less time was spent injecting Bandai Namco’s PAC-MAN into the game, maybe that would have improved matters. Quite honestly, PAC-MAN‘s random inclusion — and subsequent promotion — proves more distracting than a welcome dose of nostalgia.
If I’m being honest, Twin Mirror is DONTNOD‘s most experimental work in a long time, though it also pales in comparison to previous outings. That’s not to say it isn’t good, it’s not just great. With such a high bar to hit, coming off truly impactful games, Twin Mirror just doesn’t quite manage to hit the same calibre (The Adventures of Captain Spirit FTW). I’m also disappointed that — based on previews and promos — I believed it had a Twin Peaks vibe didn’t follow through to the full release, but I’ll largely take responsibility for that one. Those who enjoy DONTNOD‘s work will certainly enjoy this, but those getting into the genre for the first time should consider this game’s predecessors before it.
Twin Mirror is available now on Windows PC via Epic Games Store, Xbox One and PS4 on 1 December.
Twin Mirror was reviewed using a promotional code on Windows PC via the Epic Games Store, as provided by the publisher. Click here to learn more about Stevivor’s scoring scale.