Studio Dontnod has become an established name in the videogame community when it comes to their pioneering use of narrative-driven storytelling. Twin Mirror is their next title, which they’re self-publishing for consoles and PCs with a litle help from Bandai Namco when it comes to distribution.
Of course, the main reference point that people will have when it comes to Dontnod is their work on the very successful Life is Strange franchise for Square Enix, but they were also behind Vampyr and the more recently released Tell Me Why, which didn’t get a PS4 release but was well received upon launch as well. Twin Mirror is, in a way, a bit like Vampyr, as it doesn’t follow into the episode-driven footsteps of Dontnod’s other games. The gameplay is vintage Dontnod though, with a firm emphasis on storytelling.
Your protagonist is Sam Riggs, and if that name makes you think this story probably takes place in the US, you’d be right. You’re a journalist returning home after a friend of yours dies in a suspicious accident. The victim and Sam used to be best friends, so when Sam returns to Basswood it doesn’t take long for his investigative skills to kick in. The game doesn’t waste time in getting you acquainted with the key townsfolk that you’ll be exploring the narrative with, as you dive into their relationships with both Nick and yourself. It’s a relatively small group of people, but I thought that the format worked very well in the sense of a good mystery story with a “whodunnit” element to it.
Characters are well defined and look the part, but lack some of the polish that we saw in Life is Strange 2. Part of that is in the production values for the game (some of the lip-syncing is a little off), but it’s also that the choices you make don’t seem to affect your relationships all that much – making your narrative options feel less impactful. This isn’t a big issue because Twin Mirror takes a different approach to narrative structure, but it does stand out when you compare it to Dontnod’s other work.
Twin Mirror is more streamlined in that it follows a more linear and cinematic approach to its storytelling. As such it’s a more traditional type of adventure game for Dontnod, consisting of scripted conversations and hunting for items in the locations you currently have access to in order to trigger a new part of the story when you use it for a short puzzle. There are still moments where you get to make choices though, and this is where the Mind Palace comes in – Sam’s ability to go back or forward to moments in time that affect your perception of the world as you view it today. It’s a time travel-like mechanic that features Sam’s imaginary version of himself – who also has a personality and agenda of his own – and it’s the most innovative and interesting part about Twin Mirror.
A lot of this time-hopping has to do with Sam’s own history with the town, which he left after his work as a journalist exposed shady practices at the local mine – ultimately crippling the local economy. It creates an interesting dynamic within the game where people are torn being resenting Sam and welcoming him back into their town. It’s a great setup and the script, perhaps even more so than the Life is Strange games, would probably make for a fun movie to watch. That feeling is helped by the fact that, once again, Dontnod has created a visually appealing game that looks great and is supported by an excellent soundtrack. A relatively short runtime also ensures that this feels properly film-like, making this good interactive entertainment to play through in a weekend or so.
On the downside, the game isn’t as interactive from a gameplay point of view and you’ll feel less incentive to go back in for a second playthrough. It kind of reminded me of the Playlink title Hidden Agenda in that sense, which I’d also recommend in a heartbeat to anyone interested in an interactive movie type of experience. Twin Mirror gives you more direct control over your protagonist, but ultimately the story is in the driver’s seat, not you. That’s okay by me, but don’t expect a Life is Strange-like approach.