“Twin Mirror” leaves behind the supernatural elements of its predecessors for a more grounded psychological thriller. You play as Sam Higgs, an investigative journalist who returns to his hometown, Basswood, to attend the wake of his best friend. His death doesn’t add up, so Sam takes matters into his own hands.
Upon arriving, it’s clear the townspeople resent and blame Sam, especially after he published an exposé about the local mine’s lack of safety, which rendered many of them jobless. I couldn’t help but dislike Sam too, but for a different reason. He’s bland; perhaps Dontnod hoped players would fill in the blanks of his personality through decision-making moments in the story. But just as Sam lacks personality, the choices lack meaning, too — especially when I cared so little for the protagonist and the world overall.
“Twin Mirror” introduces a wide breadth of characters, but the game’s length is too short. Not enough time is dedicated to providing depth, so people never feel real. For example, early on, you visit shops in town, including a pharmacy and cafe. Some are familiar faces from the wake, others are new. However, most of them are never seen again until the final act.
The abbreviated length makes the storytelling suffer, especially from poor pacing. I was surprised to reach the end as quickly as I did, when I was still meeting new characters. Interactions are awkward, even beyond the stiff dialogue: For example, you can choose to hug your ex or just “let it happen,” which shows your character awkwardly standing waiting to be embraced, without doing anything in return.
The mystery is straightforward — in fact, it’s too straightforward. In the first thirty minutes of the game you find your bloody T-shirt in the bathtub, with no recollection of how it ended up that way after a heavy night of drinking. The blood suggests something nefarious, perhaps even murderous. Without spoiling, the revelation is much more boring, leaving this “twist” to be more of a red herring. Even as the mystery wraps up, the game’s two unfulfilling endings left me thinking, “that’s it?” With no strong relationships or intrigue to the mystery, the story crashes and burns.
In between the story beats, you conduct investigations in different environments, like a crash site on the road or a dive bar. You begin by collecting evidence, picking up or examining items around you, but the process is tedious. Without any kind of hint menu or way to highlight items in the proximity, much like eagle vision in “Assassin’s Creed,” you end up fumbling around for way too long, feeling frustrated.
Though “Twin Mirror” isn’t about the supernatural, it still has that Dontnod touch that brings in something strange and somewhat otherworldly. Once you gather all the clues, the investigation transitions into Sam’s head, a space called the Mind Palace. Here, you can reconstruct crime scenes, such as a bar brawl. You have to figure out where the fight began, who was involved and what obstacles they hit in the environment. While this could make for neat puzzles, the result is instead a clumsy execution of trial-and-error. You have to swap different, arbitrary options until you find the truth.
The Mind Palace is more than just part of the investigation process; it’s also a place you frequent during key story beats, where you can witness Sam’s fragmented memories and try to make sense of the present. Sometimes these appear in an abstract form, like puzzles or running away from an enemy. Unfortunately, poor controls make chase scenes more frustrating than fun. You’ll witness scenes from Sam’s past too. Yet, these moments are hamstrung by poor animations and unnatural dialogue, such as Sam saying, “You look like I just ran over your grandma” when his girlfriend rejects his marriage proposal.
As you navigate the world, you have a companion who lives inside your head. This is Sam’s “double,” a figment of his imagination that offers advice that often contradicts what Sam wants to do. During vital story moments, you choose whether to side with Sam or the double, leading to various, branching results including different endings or reactions from those around you. Many of these decisions have consequences, but they never feel all that impactful or exciting.
The one thing “Twin Mirror” gets right is how good it looks. The visuals are stunning, particularly in Sam’s Mind Palace, where areas are crafted out of crystalline, geometric shapes, or you walk through shallow water in what looks like an endless ocean with the sun peeking through the clouds. It makes these moments interesting, and bizarre, but substance beyond the graphics is skin deep.
Upon finishing “Twin Mirror,” it didn’t feel like a Dontnod game. For a studio that has prided itself on tackling social issues and representing marginalized characters thoughtfully through rich storytelling, “Twin Mirror” is soulless. It’s a failure in what the studio usually does best.