Dontnod have been at the forefront of narrative gaming for a number of years now, beginning with the under-appreciated Remember Me and continuing through the Life is Strange series, Vampyr, and the most recent Tell Me Why. While these titles range from sci fi to gothic horror, they are connected by a specific interest in narrative engagement over twitch gameplay (especially Life is Strange and Tell Me Why).
There is a real sense of consequence that runs through dialogue and decisions, making the player feel in control of their character’s destiny and shaping events in their image. Of course, sometimes this is an exercise in sleight of hand, with the changes being less substantial than they appear, but in terms of gaming experience it is the illusion of control that contributes to the developer’s success. After sampling its opening two hours, it’s clear that Twin Mirror seeks to continue that tradition.
Twin Mirror promises a deep and complex psychological thriller that takes place partly in the mind of investigative reporter Sam Higgs. Having left his home town of Basswood, West Virginia two years previously, he had no intention of returning. Unfortunately, he is dragged back by the tragic death of his best friend and is thrown into the mystery and conspiracies that surround this seemingly sleepy location. As backstories go, this isn’t massively original but it is perfectly suited to the game. It ensures that the player has to rely on Sam’s memories and reflections on Basswood, whilst also being aware that not all is as it seems. This approach will be familiar to long-term fans of Dontnod’s games, which have an established motif of weird happening s in mundane locations.
Graphically, Twin Mirror is very impressive. Character models are good, facial animation is largely convincing, and the locations are detailed and really evocative of the rural American setting. As with the Life is Strange games, the soundtrack is peppered with appropriate indie pop and rock, with some tunes that I look forward to hearing more of in the final game. The voice acting and performances are also pretty strong, with most characters having a real sense of individual identity.
It is the characters that form the core of the game’s opening hours. Thrown into the haunting memories of his home town, Sam must reacquaint himself with all of the townsfolk. A handy journal system allows you to keep track of Sam’s relationship with each of the main figures, from his ex to the unemployed miners who blame him for the exposé that forced the closure of the town’s mining operation. Having been closely following the progress of the American election, it was really interesting to see figures here who closely resembled the various political groups from news reports. Basswood is a town that people leave rather than move to, with no main source of employment following the closure of the mine. This is a very topical political situation that provides the backdrop for the larger mysteries of the central narrative. The inclusion of a playable arcade version of a Namco icon is a nice nod to the nostalgic aspects of this story, as well.
Aside from talking to the townspeople, the preview includes a few environmental puzzles that make interesting use of Sam’s uncanny mind palace ability. It’s reminiscent of the Frogware Sherlock Holmes and Cthulhu titles as it sees you investigate your surroundings and piece events together in their correct order. While clearly influenced by the aforementioned titles, it feels far more polished and enjoyable here, though there were a couple of minor frustrations in trying to find the last clue in larger locations. There are definite hints that Sam’s mind palace will not be a panacea, however, as the titular Twin is an imagined alternative of himself with greater social awareness, and who is required to pull him out of some of the more traumatic mental situations.
As a taster for the full game, this preview works perfectly to establish the setting and characters whilst also teasing the potential for some intriguing unpacking of the central mechanics. The step away from the popular episodic structure promises to offer a different narrative flow and I am looking forward to getting a proper look in the Twin Mirror ready for its release on PC, PS4, and Xbox One on 1st December. Be sure to check out our reflections nearer that date.