They say the human mind is a beautiful thing. Just take a look at all the art, cinema, music, and literature that’s come from human brainpower as a collective. With Twin Mirror, DontNod tries to craft a tale of memory, loss and mystery that unfortunately isn’t half as good as it sounds. The mind palace portrayed in the game shows off its visual polish; there are some beautiful shots there (more on that in a bit). Sadly, there’s little else to like here, with two-dimensional characters and a wafer-thin mystery taking up most of its runtime.
Twin Mirror doesn’t waste any time telling the player how Sam, the protagonist, feels about returning to his hometown. He wishes he could be anywhere else, for Basswood turned on him after his exposé on its mining industry resulted in a town’s worth of people being laid off. Sam is – reluctantly – back in town for his ex-best friend Nick’s funeral (no falling out here, he just left and never called; apparently, best friends in the DontNod universe are terrible at keeping in touch). After getting drunk at the wake, Sam wakes up the next morning in his motel room with no memory of the previous night and a bloody shirt, kicking off the events of the game.
Following their previous titles, people have come to expect a lot from DontNod Entertainment. While every experience doesn’t have to be an emotional rollercoaster, the problem with Twin Mirror is that it is devoid of novelty. Where previous games boast of original stories, we’ve seen the one here a million times already. Here’s the thing about the whole amnesiac plotline – it’s been done to death in popular media, and (unfortunately for Twin Mirror) in much more thrilling ways – be it the Jason Bourne novels or films like Memento. So, if you set down this beaten road, the story must be presented in a brand-new manner to keep the audience captivated.
Twin Mirror: Gameplay
Set in the third-person view, you control Sam, exploring a fixed set of locations. Within their confines, there are multiple items in the environment to examine. Similar to previous DontNod instalments, interacting with an object will prompt Sam’s inner thoughts on the same. Some of these could be a ‘memento’ for a character – examining these would unlock a diary entry of sorts. Certain items also hold special meaning to Sam and have the potential to trigger a memory associated with them.
Another important gameplay mechanic is investigating a scene. If done right, they can be the highlight of a game; the thrill of piecing together the clues at a crime scene and reaching a conclusion is truly special. Twin Mirror’s investigations are two-parters: you collect all the clues, and then you piece together a reconstruction of the events that transpired. While the first simply involves exploring your environment and taking note of all points of interest, the latter has you choosing a sequence of events as you try to recreate how a situation played out.
During my first scene, hitting upon the right combination on the first go made me think that the story would change shape based on the chosen reconstruction, and you would ultimately uncover the big baddie (or not) based on the path taken. Unfortunately, that’s not the case. Choices and consequences have been significantly scaled down compared to games like Life is Strange 2. Investigations only have the one correct outcome. You’ll need to keep at it until you hit the right one.
Sam’s Mind Palace
Credit where credit is due; I did love the game’s take on the mind palace. In fact, Sam’s Mind Palace was one of my favourite parts. While a real mind palace is often made up of a building or a street (where each room or landmark corresponds to a memory), Twin Mirror’s spin on one is visually striking and works much better than, say, mentally walking down a street where each drab building represents a person whose birthday you need to remember. However, you are forced to sit through the same animation every time Sam encounters a special object and chooses to enter his mind palace (thankfully, it’s not too long). Once inside, all you need to do is walk up to the object in question and trigger the memory.
There doesn’t seem to be any purpose to these other than to immerse oneself in Sam’s world and gain knowledge of some backstory; it didn’t unlock any additional dialogue choices like I expected it to. Over time, the Mind Palace starts getting corrupted as Sam frantically tries to solve the mystery of the bloody shirt. From the little I saw of these ‘anomalies’, they seemed really interesting and feel like a missed opportunity to explore more.
A Mystery in Shambles
In the characters lies another of the game’s problems: they have very little depth. We have seen these clichés so many times already. To start off with, there’s the angsty teen (pre-teen? I honestly had no idea all game how old Joan, your dead (possibly murdered) best friend’s daughter, is; she looks 12 but often talks like she’s a decade older).
Much like a teen crime novel, there are the stereotypical bullies (the miners who hate Sam’s guts); the old flame, Anna (who broke up with Sam after he proposed as she didn’t want to settle down, leading up to him ultimately leaving town) and lastly the shadow of the missing (in this case, deceased) best friend. Then there’s the mysterious man – the eponymous ‘twin’ – at your side, only visible to you; providing helpful (and at times counter-intuitive) advice on how to approach a conversation. The game takes so long to explain who this person is and why he’s here that it’s of very little interest by the time the reveal takes place.
I feel relying on the episodic model that previous DontNod games have embraced would have worked for the best when it came to letting these characters develop, and maybe showing more sides to them. Having completed the game, I can say the best part about it was the Pac-Man homages (including a fully playable version in-game). It’s summed up better than I ever could here. Bearing a certain level of visual polish, the mystery itself isn’t compelling enough to keep the player guessing or even engaged. There’s nothing new here, and for a studio that’s been putting out quite a bit of original, thought-provoking content recently, that’s disappointing.
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