Back in January, we took a look at Twin Mirror on its early Epic release. Now players can pick up Twin Mirror at a significant discount over on Steam. After a middling impression, we took another look to see if things look better for the Steam re-release.
Twin Mirror is the first fully self published entry by Dontnod. This narrative heavy, or heavy narrative, title is something new and yet familiar to fans of the French studio. After sidestepping the big publishes to go it alone, the team behind titles like Life is Strange invited us to follow in the footsteps of Sam Higgs as he returns to Basswood. This small middle Americas town is no longer home to Sam and his journalistic integrity. After upsetting the locals, he was virtually run out of town and only seems set on dropping by to upset them some more while he digs into the circumstances behind his friend’s death.
What seems like a relatively mundane opening flings players headfirst into the skull of Sam. Controls are, thankfully, intuitive enough, so getting around and working out how to control the camera is not brain surgery. It’s nothing that you wouldn’t expect if you’ve encountered Dontnod’s storytelling before and graphics also seem up to par with what players have come to expect. What initially sets this title apart from other adventures in Dontnod’s universe is the central protagonist and his melancholic attitude. Subdued palettes, long walks, and an internal monologue that seems to draw out the initial opening do a great job of convincing anybody watching that Sam is hardly a likable individual, while also preparing you for the pacing that follows.
Unlike Life is Strange, which deals with the torment of teenage emotions and the realities of growing up, Twin Mirror is a far different emotional journey. Dispatching much of the exuberance of youth, interactions between characters are well voiced and distinctly low key. Even when the stakes are high, the same urgency that makes small moments intense in teenage life doesn’t seep through here. Instead, Sam is a man with definite difficulty understanding how to interact with other people. The methodical nature of Sam is well portrayed and some great voice acting sells the idea that Sam is just uncomfortable around other people. When things do pick up, some solid direction and an equally impressive supporting cast still cut through. Dennis the drunk, the animosity of some locals, and Sam’s mentor Walter do manage to make a great counterpoint to Sam’s unapologetically sour demeanour, but not often enough.
Twin Mirror does try to interject some humanity into this ace journalist with the appearance of Sam’s double. A seeming attempt to maybe pin some of Sam’s more bothersome qualities and bad decision making on a dissociative personality disorder, but this voice in Sam’s head is far from a devil on his shoulder. He provides a guiding hand to the player when making choices, adds an outlet to some of my own frustrations with the central character, and generally makes sure that Sam doesn’t do anything too ridiculous. While I’m not in any place to judge this portrayal of the second set of thoughts and feelings, the jarring way it breaks the flow of Twin Mirror’s narrative and really fails to explore this for the uninitiated, doesn’t serve to help a game that already is a difficult experience.
As if to hammer this home, Twin Mirror introduces another contemplative element to Sam’s investigative approach and a tool to uncover the dark secrets held in Basswood. The Mind Palace is an unexpected twist but a refreshing visual change to Twin Mirror. Retreating back into his own subconscious, Sam can put together clues and run through memories in the Mind Palace to work out exactly what is going on around him. This scratchpad of sorts is an ethereal creation that very purposefully strips away the real world and allows players to focus on the clues they’ve picked up. Admittedly, the puzzle system feels lackluster with few ways to go wrong and no real way to fail. The Mind Palace, however, is a great visual escape from the rest of Basswood, both in terms of visuals and audio design.
As a general rule, Dontnod’s designs take everyday characters and make players care about them. They’re a subversively cool or utterly charming edge to a tale about real emotions and personal struggles we all could have. Twin Mirror is certainly more of a challenge than those other adventures. Whether it’s the difficult demeanour of Sam, the very subdued character dialogue or the drab backdrop of small town middle America Twin Mirror can be a challenge to push through. At best Twin Mirror can be taken as a difficult piece of art designed to tackle more serious subject matter than its studio stablemates, and there are some genuine interpersonal moments that work. However, some of the other elements, like the Mind Palace and the attempt to touch on DID are lost in my general disinterest in Sam’s fate. I do feel like we treated Twin Mirror a little harshly on our first pass, but the basic problems with this title still remain neatly packed into the Steam port., but if you are ready for a different pace to Dontnod’s other adventures then head over to the official Twin Mirror Steam Store page now.