Review: Twin Mirror – in search of the truth
Last week Twin Mirror appeared from the tube of DONTNOD. A brand new IP from the makers of Life, among others, is Strange and Tell me Why. Enough reason to get excited, right?
DONTNOD’s games are high in my top 10 lists every year. Last year I was deeply impressed by Life is Strange 2 and this year it’s hit again. Tell Me Why came out last summer and took storytelling to a new level. Depending on how good Cyberpunk 2077 is going to be, Tell Me Why has a good chance of finishing at my number 1.
That DONTNOD would release another title right after Tell Me Why surprised me. Twin Mirror is a completely stand-alone game and the first trailers we saw last year showed a rough, grey and more mature story. A psychological thriller with a touch of detective work. That’s what I’m for, so I dived into Basswood (West Virginia) last week and got to know the story and the Twin Mirror characters.
Looking for the truth (spoiler-free)
In Twin Mirror you take on the role of Sam Higgs, a former investigative journalist. After a period of absence, Sam returns to Basswood to attend the funeral of his former best friend Nick. Soon you notice that your return to Basswood is received with mixed feelings.
Sam doesn’t feel very well himself and also has some reservations about the death of his friend. The story continues after a short introduction with a number of storylines. In this way you try to find out how others have experienced your departure, you investigate to better understand the death of your friend Nick and find out more about what is going on in Basswood. As far as the content of the story is concerned, I won’t elaborate further because of spoilers. I will try to explain why this time I was less charmed by the story and the characters in it.
Twin Mirror is, just like the previous titles of DONTNOD, a so-called point-and-click game. This means that you move your character while walking through small worlds. The story is formed by finding clues, interacting with NPCs and studying the environment. Because the context is given by being able to hear the thoughts of your main character, DONTNOD often succeeds in bringing the necessary (emotional) depth and they have elevated this game genre to an art form. Visuals, music and good voice-acting are in my opinion the key to making such a game a success, next to the well-known ‘choices have consequences’ principle. In Twin Mirror this is less evident on all fronts and there are a number of reasons for this.
In the first place, the story seems rather forced. The voice-acting, the tone of voice and the way the characters are in their roles, often show a mismatch with the content of the (or spoken) story. An example from one of the opening scenes: Sam returns to Basswood after an absence of two years and is reunited with a number of old acquaintances. Among them Joan, the daughter of his late friend Nick. The reunion takes place in a rather jovial way, with facial expressions and scripts that are completely out of context. For example, there are several moments in the game where the atmosphere does not strike me as a player and there is a mismatch with the context/content of the story.
A second point is the emotional connection with the characters. This hardly ever occurs and that has to do with the fact that I, as a player, don’t get enough insight into the bond the characters have with Sam. You learn relatively little about their relational history and also during the game there is little deepening. The objects (such as letters and photos) you find with Sam in the world compensate somewhat in this respect.
The lack of emotional depth with Sam and the other characters means that the choices that have to be made are also experienced with less impact. There have been no moments when I really didn’t know what to choose. Also, most of the choices seem to have little impact at all on both the story and the relationships with others.
The atmospheric Basswood
So far you read that I’m not very excited. However, an important gauge for me is: would I continue playing the game if I didn’t play it as part of a review? And then the answer is: Yes! But, what’s the point?
I think Basswood is beautifully set up. The mountain village in the state of West Virginia has something authentic and breathes an atmosphere that can be felt as a player. The various houses and buildings have been designed with the necessary care and detail. The village feeling of a small community comes to life on your screen.
It is also palpable that the inhabitants of the former mining village share a history with each other. You experience this in the interactions that the inhabitants have with each other in the café, the lunchroom and on the street. As Sam I experience that I have been a part of this, but that I am now a stranger in my own town. This has been expressed very strongly by the developers.
Although I’m critical of the storytelling, I remain curious while playing. During the five to eight hour game, I remain curious about how the story unfolds, what twists and turns occur and how the story comes to an end. In recent years DONTNOD has given me better experiences. However, at the finish line Twin Mirror is just an “okay” story. Where I think you should really experience titles like Tell Me Why and Life is Strange, I’d say of Twin Mirror that it’s a fun title for in between, one that you can pick up on the offer.
Puzzle and scavenger hunt
So the story can be called “okay” and so can the gameplay. In Twin Mirror you’re mainly exploring. There is plenty to see and experience in Basswood. The worlds feel pretty compact and that’s good for the tempo. Something where other DONTNOD titles sometimes ‘blame’ that the tempo is too slow, Twin Mirror is a bit less so.
However, I do have some critical remarks to make about exploration. I find the camera position (and the viewing angle from your main character).
not quite optimal. At times you’re too close to your character and you can lose overview. This is not ideal for point-and-click games. I also think that the controls feel a bit cluncky and the interaction with objects is very difficult. I was always just wrong and since you interact with a few hundred objects during the game, it does get annoying at some point.
Another gameplay element comes from exploration. In Twin Mirror, your aim is repeatedly to reconstruct history by means of environmental cues. This creates more depth to the story and gives the world in which the story takes place more meaning.
Reconstructing goes hand in hand with making choices and these have some impact. The developers have been able to express this reasonably well. As far as research is concerned, some principles of deductive reasoning are also applied, as you know from games such as Sinking City or L.A. Noire. However, do not expect the same depth and quality. I have experienced it more as something interesting for there.
With Twin Mirror, the developers of DONTNOD are able to create an authentic city with interesting characters in the basics and an overall story that appeals. However, the game lacks depth in storytelling and emotional involvement with the characters. The repeated mismatch between the context/story narrative versus the mediocre facial expressions, voice acting and unintelligible scripts is disturbing. However, the overall story and especially the visual style of the game are interesting enough to purchase the game during a good sale and continue playing on a free Sunday. Twin Mirror is not a high-flyer, but just okay for in between.
Published at Wed, 09 Dec 2020 20:40:36 +0000