After two long years away from the spotlight, Dontnod have returned with a fresh look at Twin Mirror, their upcoming narrative adventure.
The game follows Sam Higgs, an investigative journalist drawn back to his home town of Basswood, West Virginia and the unhappy memories it holds for him by the death of his best friend. It’s not long before he’s wrapped up in a mystery to unravel through the town.
I saw the 2018 version of the game first hand and… let’s just say it felt pretty rough at the time. This private hands-off Twin Mirror demo looks much more polished and coherent, those two years of additional development clearly having been put to good use. You see it through the above teaser trailer, which echoes the 2018 reveal in the scenery it shows, but has a much more refined character model for Sam and dramatically improved facial animation that just feel more human and less wooden. It will be difficult to capture that same nuance throughout the whole game and all its characters, but it’s a big step forward.
There’s a fantastic cinematographic style to Twin Mirror. The lighting is moody and evocative, whether capturing a sunset on a town overlook, or the depth of field blur on lights hung up on a bar at night. The game’s feel and pacing are sure to be affected by the long tracking shots and camera angles that have been inspired by TV and cinema. There’s the potential that it will lead to a game with the slow pace of a modern miniseries, and whether that’s a good thing will certainly depend on the player’s temperament when going from a passive viewer to someone actively engaged with Twin Mirror’s story.
And they will be trying to keep you engaged in the story. Twin Mirror builds off some of the core principles that have been woven into each and every one of Dontnod’s games, with the ability for your actions and choices to filter through and affect the way that the story unfolds. A butterfly effect of small and minor instances, of cause and consequence, will ripple through the game, leading to several potential endings.
Compared to the supernatural slant that most of Dontnod’s games typically have, Twin Mirror is positively subdued, with Sam’s keen analytical mind the factor that defines who he is. It’s that that explains his ability to recall seemingly insignificant details about Basswood and its surroundings, despite years away from the town, not to mention his dramatic and stylised mind palace – a trope commonly used when antisocial geniuses appear in film and TV.
Sam’s mind palace is heavily stylised though, with each memory built out of a crystalline structure, floating through a white void. As you wander through, Sam can interact with them and view a moment from the past, or try to wave the negative and irrelevant memories. It’s as Sam delves into his memories of the overlook above Basswood that we discover the reason for his departure from the town, his proposal rejected by his then girlfriend, Anna.
OK, so there is one potentially supernatural element Twin Mirror has up its sleeve: The Double. This alter-ego can appear at any point, visible only to Sam and interrupting him to give a different angle, a different opinion for our protaginst to consider. Since 2018, he’s been turned from a wise-cracking fancy dan to a much more mysterious character shrouded in shadow, but his purpose remains the same. As Sam chats to his goddaughter at his friend’s wake, she reveals her suspicion that her father was murdered and not involved in a car crash of his own making.
Can she convince you to investigate for her? In butts The Double to put her request into perspective. Wouldn’t agreeing to investigate give her too much hope? Almost confirm to her that her father was murdered? Wouldn’t it be better to hold back and investigate without any pressure? When The Double is there to offer such a key counterpoint to a decision, you can expect that it will almost certainly be a key turning point for the story.
There’s much more to reveal about Twin Mirror, but signs are certainly much more encouraging from this demo compared to the last. The production values and sense of coherence to the experience have definitely improved, and the teasers of the mystery and story much more intriguing. Given their record of delivering compelling, well-written narrative adventures, Twin Mirror should be one for fans of Life Is Strange and its sequel to keep an eye on when it arrives on PS4, Xbox One and PC later this year.