✔️An inventive take on the point-and-click adventure. ✔️Intriguing plot that does its best in pairing mental wellbeing with investigation. ✔️Visually stunning. DONTNOD’s best design work yet.
❌Storyline lacked substance and resolve. ❌Way too short to be memorable.
Being prepared for a title that touches upon the sensitive subject of mental wellbeing can be a difficult venture when the participant is struggling with similar issues themselves. That is the situation I found myself in while playing Twin Mirror, a new IP from the French development studio that bought us the critically acclaimed Life is Strange franchise, and Tell Me Why just a few months prior to this release. I was fortunate to get an early preview for the title, and understood the many trials I was set to face within this universe, however I also expected Twin Mirror to push the envelope a little more than what was presented. The click and point action-adventure was first revealed back in 2018, with fans quizzed over the title’s premise and mysterious supernatural elements its trailer had entailed.
Personally, I had expected there to be heavy nuances of both Life is Strange and some subtleties of Veronica Mars present with a dash of Alan Wake. While there is plenty of Life is Strange – as expected – the investigative skills used to serve judgement within this murder-mystery tale would equate itself more there-of the television series NUMB3RS, and less of a typical discover and deduct type initiation with our protagonist. Shakespeare once wrote “There’s a method to his madness”, and it’s quite ironic that this quote lives on and has become more and more relevant in today’s age. Mental health and wellbeing is a serious topic, but has never really been reflected upon in such a way where people who may suffer from its social stigma, utilise its trivial bearings to their advantage. Twin Mirror highlights this notion with its scattered depiction, that takes place within the mind of our striving hero.
As Twin Mirror’s campaign relies on its narrative, I’ll give a brief synopsis on its plotline then give my thoughts on this somewhat inquisitive story. Investigative Journalist Sam Higgs, returns to his hometown of Basswood, West Virginia after the untimely death of his best friend Nick. After the controversial columnist was blamed for the old town mine’s closure, his resurfacing was met with unwelcoming pleasantries from many town folk that had been laid off from their jobs. After meeting with Nick’s daughter Joanie, or “Bug” – nicknamed after her love for drawing bugs as a child – she pleads with Sam to investigate her father’s death. Believing that it was not in her Dad’s nature to be drunk behind the wheel, Bug assumes the entire scenario was a setup for murder. Reluctant to stay in town, Sam accepts and begins his investigation with the help of his ex-girlfriend, Anna.
Suffering from anxiety and depression, Sam spirals into what is known as the “mind palace”, a place where he can mentally escape while exploring his surroundings, or even to decompose from a tumultuous panic attack. Never alone, the uneasy reporter is guided by an apparition known as “Him” or The Double, who acts primarily as Higgs’ conscience. Each scenario presented by both Sam and The Double are usually led by split decisions that may help or harm your investigation’s outcome. Each chapter will entail an area of importance within your investigation. Much like DONTNOD’s previous IP’s, dissecting events and connecting discrepancies will unlock key events and further advance the plot. While there are clues that are highlighted throughout each analysis, interactables are displayed with an action button to either collect or examine; point-and-click 101.
I can’t say that I was completely disappointed by Twin Mirror, the title had me hooked from beginning to end. Its scrupulous details and creative imagery had me mesmerised from the onset. Its welcoming overlay, intriguing cast and fascinating ‘whodunnit?’ made for a good investigative scrum. However, a wave of monotony does tend to cast itself over the entire premise midway through its cumbersome campaign. I had this feeling that there was no resolve within our protagonist and his accomplice, that they were seeking truth for the sake of their own selfish means. Sure there was a beginning to this campaign, but it almost felt like there was no ending. Was there a payoff? Yeah sure, but it seemed almost effortless. There was no real climax, it just… happened. Twin Mirror unfortunately demonstrates a creative spill that takes a quick dip at its end from its high rise initiative.
DONTNOD have established themselves as clever connoisseurs of creative writing, but in this odd occasion I can’t level with Twin Mirror’s disposal. There’s a lot that went missing, or thrown to the curb that could have prolonged its potential. Was it a complete throwaway? No not at all. Twin Mirror’s concept is one that I personally admire, touching on delicate material that allures great attention to those experiencing this bleak drama. My issues pertain mainly to the title’s length, and quality of life. The campaign lasts around five to six hours, depending on the path you take, and how dedicated you are in finding hidden collectables that have no purpose in furthering the title’s narrative. The polarising point-and-click genre has certainly evolved over time, with cinematics and quicktime events slating an entirely new atmosphere within its simplistic formula.
While Twin Mirror aspires to develop new experiences within its analytical innovation, its recycled snooping becomes rather displaced and almost obsolete. There was an entire scene where you enter the “mind palace”, and it seemed like it was there solely for gating any progression – aka bottleknecking. Twin Mirror’s excellent interpretation that conjoins both mental health with deducing and surmising had become a mindless blur in itself by its concluding arc. Facing the issue of relying on a strong narrative, and compounding it with meaning in such a short timeframe will lead to a less than desirable outcome, and that’s unfortunately been the case with Twin Mirror’s creative missteps. While there was some expectancy for DONTNOD to deliver a feature length campaign rather than the studio’s traditional episodic breakouts, Twin Mirror’s campaign length raises more questions than answers.
Without spoiling, there’s a specific moment near the end where the player must make a choice in sacrificing a fundamental that may make or break the entire flow of the title. This was confusing to say the least, there was no real rhyme or reason for its instance, but it was placed there for narrative purposes? I’m still confounded by it. None-the-less, Twin Mirror does have its positives that shines a beacon of hope for the development studio. An improvement has been made within its graphical and visual fidelity. It’s their best work yet in terms of overall architecture and design. Texture mapping, and model construction is immaculate in comparison to Life is Strange and Tell Me Why’s cartoon-like exterior. You feel a sense of realism in every emotion expressed on each character’s face.
Representation within the title is done well with each character’s resolve intact. Personally, I found “Him” to be the most interesting character out of the cast. While he represents an unstable side to our protagonist, his personality masks trivial revelations that may rear its ugly head. The Double’s resolve is that of an innocence within Sam that tries to guide him on the right path, all while leaning for the jocular hoping to avoid confrontation. A depiction of one’s battle against their own identity. An association disorder that tends to connect with cognitive distance, something I personally struggle with on a daily. While you will bump into friendly villagers within the small city of Basswood, you are confronted with hostility from notorious thugs. Each interaction may sway your decisions but ultimately will lead to similar outcomes, nothing that’s drastically different from one another.
With all that said, Twin Mirror is still a solid play. While it may not be as strong as DONTNOD’s previous titles, it bears qualities that are unseen within a copious litany of its kind. The point-and-click adventure has come a long way, and with its unique twist in investigative drama, Twin Mirror may very well lay a foundation for an inventive spin within its respective category. Yes, you will get lost within its confusing story structure, however its convoluted nature will allure you to its very core. Whether or not you take away a positive or negative experience may totally be up to you, for I found it to be different. Not bad, not great… Just good. But certainly an uncommon blend of DONTNOD’s previous workings.
Twin Mirror - DONTNOD Entertainment
Twin Mirror is an adventure game developed and published by Dontnod Entertainment and co-produced by Shibuya Productions. It released on 1 December 2020 for Microsoft Windows, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One.