Twin Mirror Review — A Pale Imitation
Twin Mirror is a beautiful-looking game but doesn't have the same narrative punch that made previous games from Dontnod so memorable.
Early on, I got a chance to preview Dontnod’s latest adventure game Twin Mirror. It certainly set my expectations pretty high for the final release. While I understood some of my issues with the puzzle-solving aspects during the preview most likely wouldn’t be fixed by release, I hoped the story would continue to capture my attention much like Dontnod’s previous titles have. Life Is Strange and Tell Me Why told vastly different stories. However, both resonated with me on a human level and offered a series of characters and journeys that I still think about to this day. Meanwhile, Twin Mirror has a personality and story that I will struggle to remember after a month.
Twin Mirror’s plot setup is the story of Sam Higgs coming back to his hometown after spending years away. Before he left, Sam wrote an article that shook up the small town. It ended up causing the mine’s closure, which put a ton of residents out of work. As you might imagine, Sam’s relationship with everyone is understandably uneasy when he returns. On top of that, his closest friend Nick passed away under suspicious circumstances while investigating something big happening within the town.
A Dontnod game is not complete unless one of the main characters has a unique ability to guide them through puzzles and story beats, and Twin Mirror is no different. Sam can enter what he calls his Mind Palace. It’s a solitary oasis away from the outside world where he can relive memories and experiences. Plus, he’s able to reenact scenarios and crime scenes. If that wasn’t enough, Sam also sees and hears a more social and sarcastic version of himself.
This other self guides you to make more empathic choices than overly analytical ones throughout the game. Unfortunately, this cornucopia of different ingredients starts Sam on a frustrating journey that’s relatively uninteresting and undercuts any tense moments immediately after being introduced.
The presentation of Twin Mirror is its most immense saving grace. This is easily the best-looking adventure game Dontnod has produced. They move away from the style that gives Life Is Strange its charm into a more realistic aesthetic. It’s akin to more recent action games like Vampyr and Remember Me. Specifically, the Mind Palace looks stunning in the game’s early moments, thanks to a glass-shattering motif they carry throughout the story.
Near the end, there’s a section when the games start to go a little trippy. Encounters like these stand out because of all the little details Dontnod includes. It’s also worth noting that the build of the game ran smoothly with very little to no hitches. Frankly, I was a bit surprised given how modern adventure games often handle character animation. The only places where the impressive visuals are not great are in the random non-essential townspeople that only appear in the hub town area. Otherwise, the game looks fantastic.
In my preview, I likened the story to early Christopher Nolan films such as Following, Memento, and Insomnia—with a touch of Inception thrown in with the high concept mechanics. At first, the story gears up to follow in those footsteps. Instead, the game paints a pretty substandard tale of a man caught between two worlds. He must choose between his doppelganger’s opinions and his need to find the facts while trying to solve a trite murder mystery.
Dontnod sets you up thinking the story’s main character may or may not be someone you could trust early on. This drives an exciting and compelling intro. Still, as the narrative continues, these nuances get thrown away for elementary puzzle solving and side characters that barely contribute to the narrative— they are there simply to be suspects in the greater mystery.
With this being an “adventure” game, many of the player’s choices are nothing more than trophy and achievement bait. No matter what you choose, it does not affect the story whatsoever. It’s not until one late section where your decision matters to earn one of the five possible endings. The mystery and the supposed twist is completely worn territory. If I told you the movie it most resembles, you’d easily guess where they’re going.
Having experienced all the game endings, you have no way you can side-step the bad one unless you are deliberately trying to sabotage your playthrough. On top of that, this is also one of the shortest of Dontnod’s games I have ever played. My first playthrough clocked in at just about seven hours. When experiencing the multiple endings by replaying two sections, you’re getting around nine hours of game. Run time doesn’t equal quality. However, it does add to that sense that Twin Mirror doesn’t live up to the studio’s other output.
My major hangup about this game is that I want it to be better than it actually is. The presentation to tell a well-crafted story is absolutely in this game. Plus, given Dontnod’s previous titles, the studio has the capacity to tell an interesting psychological murder mystery. The use of Sam’s double could have been fairly interesting if it was woven into the greater mystery. Instead, they seem like two concepts that are at odds with each other when they could have been something more compelling and less cookie cutter.
I really wanted to enjoy my time with Twin Mirror. However, besides its beautiful presentation, the game lacks any of the substance that made all their previous adventure games great. Sam Higgs just isn’t an interesting enough character to get behind when most of his dialogue choices are whether he should be a dick or not. Dontnod and their games mean something to the people that love them, be it because of their characters or the themes they inhabit. Where Life is Strange and Tell Me Why soar, Twin Mirror simply flutters in the wind. It’s not a bad game, it just feels like so much wasted potential.