Twin Mirror from DONTNOD, feels like a culmination of the studios works thus far. Doing away with the supernatural and more fantastical aspects of previous titles, Twin Mirror doubles down on the psychological and explores some heavy themes. After two-hours with Twin Mirror, it’s difficult to fully grasp what it is DONTNOD has created but so far, I’m feeling positive.
Players control Sam Higgs, a journalist who left his home town of Basswood two years prior to the events of the game. Higgs wrote an article for the local paper about the unsafe work practices of the local coal mine and when it was closed, the townspeople blamed Higgs for the loss of their livelihoods.
Higgs also proposed to his girlfriend Anna, who turned him down, so he fled to lick his wounds, never to return. However, the untimely death of his closest friend and fellow journalist, Nick, brings Higgs back to Basswood where a tangled web of mystery, secrets and deceptions await.
Twin Mirror Preview
Basswood is located in West Virginia and is modelled after any number of mining towns in the US which have seen hard times following the closure of mills, downturn of the local economy and exodus of townsfolk. On Higgs’ return, Basswood appears to be on its last legs. Dilapidated homes with long faded for sale signs seem more common than occupied dwellings. Grass has gone unmown. Gardens untended. Paint left to crack and chip. The pavement broken and businesses closed down and boarded up.
Higgs feels guilty about his part in Basswood’s slow demise though believes he was in the right to expose the mine. Others in town don’t see things the same way. Many residents see Higgs as a traitor and harbour great resentment and anger towards him. Arriving at Nick’s wake, local police officer Declan has to step in and prevent ex-miner Joel from busting up Higgs’ face. Joel’s not the only person with a bone to pick with Higgs though. Everyone he speaks to, even those who are kind and polite, have an axe to grind and don’t hold back in telling Higgs exactly what their problem is.
Higgs’ conversation with Nick’s daughter and his goddaughter Joan is the most pointed and painful. Higgs’ departure from Basswood broke Joan’s heart and his absence has weighed heavily on her. Even more troubling is Joan’s suspicions that her father’s death wasn’t accidental at all. This idea burrows into Higgs’ mind and kicks off the major mystery (thus far) in Twin Mirror.
Without going into too many more story details, following Nick’s wake, Twin Mirror leans heavily on some classic tropes and cliches of the mystery genre. Higgs’ blacked out from drinking too much and has to piece together what happened the night before. His shirt is covered in blood and he’s worried he may have hurt someone and everybody he speaks to seems pretty suspicious. The more he investigates, the further down the rabbit hole he goes and the more of Basswood’s secrets he uncovers.
I’ve seen a lot of comparisons between Twin Mirror and Twin Peaks and honestly, I don’t see it. Aside from the title and the small, close-knit town’s murder mystery, Twin Mirror isn’t really anything like Twin Peaks. Where Twin Peaks was weird, offbeat, deliberately obtuse and often comedic, Twin Mirror is quite po-faced, serious and dramatic. It doesn’t have a flair for the camp nor does Basswood seem to be populated by the excellent weirdos found in Twin Peaks.
Moreover, Twin Mirror is strictly psychological and features no spiritual, supernatural or otherworldly content. It’s about one man and his incredible intellect working to solve his friend’s murder. The closest Twin Mirror gets to the supernatural is in Higgs’ Mind Palace which appears as a crystalline, brightly lit space he retreats into when putting the pieces of a mystery together. We’ve seen similar mechanics used in other games, like The Sinking City, however, in Twin Mirror it’s far more visual and interactive.
Twin Mirror plays like most other adventure games. Players control Higgs’ in third-person, explore set areas in a linear fashion, collecting clues, having conversations and piecing everything together. Twin Mirror is quite similar to Heavy Rain, Murdered: Soul Suspect and Life is Strange in this respect, though the gameplay is actually quite limited. Aside from interacting with objects to find clues or simply acquire some lore/context, most of Twin Mirror’s gameplay is taken up by conversations with other characters. Higg’s is often presented with a range of responses and depending on which is chosen, the conversation can end abruptly or some juicy info can be obtained.
While Higgs’ Mind Palace is a useful tool, so far, it seems to only be used in specific circumstances to “solve” puzzles and figure out certain occurrences. And honestly, it feels like a bit of a shallow gimmick. During Mind Palace sequences, Higgs’ needs to scout the scene and locate all clues. This boils down to running around the area, finding every interactable and…interacting with it. Once that’s done and Higgs’ Mind Palace is activated, solving the puzzle means choosing the correct option from a possible few.
These are, mostly, very obvious and when they’re not, it becomes a matter of trial and error to unlock the solution. Twin Mirror feels at its best when it lets you off the leash a little, gives you freedom to explore, chat to NPCs and learn things for yourself. The Mind Palace might look cool but at this stage, it’s a bit of a letdown.
Something else that appeared in my hands-on preview but not enough for me to form a solid opinion about is ‘The Double.’ This is Higgs’ alter-ego. His Tyler Durden, except Higgs knows The Double only exists in his mind. The two of them have conversations and The Double goads Higgs’, offers advice and tries to get him to make decisions against his better judgement. The Double appears during times of stressful interactions and when Higgs’ needs to make important decisions. The kind which have the potential to radically change the outcome of the plot and game.
It’s a bit odd that Higgs, a man so intelligent he’s capable of creating and utilising a Mind Palace has an imaginary friend. It’s also odd that Higgs relies on The Double and while clearly frustrated by the imaginary doppelganger, is happy to chat and listen to him. In the opening moments of Twin Mirror, Higgs’ is seen taking some medication and later mentions his pills, so it may be that Higgs is suffering from a mental illness which causes The Double. At this stage though, it’s too early to say.
While I’m not sold on the Mind Palace or The Double, I am invested in the mystery and plot so far and am keen to uncover more of Basswood’s dark secrets. Everyone in town seems to have something to hide and being able to find out what those secrets are is a real draw for Twin Mirror. Hopefully, as the game progresses, the puzzles and Mind Palace solutions grow more complex and stop being a simple matter of trial and error or so easy it seems the Mind Palace is unnecessary.
I mentioned earlier that having conversations and learning about Basswood is the best part of Twin Mirror and while that’s true, there’s some godawful dialogue and voice acting in the opening couple of hours. After Higgs’ failed proposal, he sees Anna’s expression and tells her she looks as though he’s run over her grandma. It’s awkward and the phrasing seems off. There are numerous examples of this throughout the hands-on time I had. Each time it happened, I was brought out of the story and was left turning my nose up at the crummy script.
Similarly, while most of the voice acting is great, some of it is quite bad. Some lines are delivered with all the passion of reciting a phone number and others just hit the ear wrong. It could be that the awkward dialogue makes for awkward line readings but even if that’s the case, the double whammy really hampers Twin Mirror’s ability to tell its story.
A game like Twin Mirror isn’t going to reveal any of its payoffs or revelations within the first two hours so it’s difficult to criticise it too much at this stage. As I said, I’m keen to see what happens with the central mystery as well as to see if an explanation is given for The Double and Higgs’ Mind Palace. And while there are some awkward lines of dialogue and some less-than-stellar voice acting, overall Twin Mirror is shaping up to be an excellent dramatic thriller.
After two hours, I have more questions than answers but a good mystery never gives anything away too early. In spite of some niggles, I’m excited to play Twin Mirror in full and see what DONTNOD’s got in store for me and Sam Higgs.
Twin Mirror was previewed on PC using digital code provided by the publisher.