Sam Higgs escaped from his run-down, sleepy hometown a couple of years ago. Though he had no intention of coming back, the funeral of his best friend forced his hand.
Basswood has difficult memories for Sam, you see. In his role as an investigative journalist, a story Sam wrote led to the closure of the town’s mine, leaving many members of the community out of work. Needless to say, he became very unpopular with the locals. That, and the breakdown of his relationship, led Sam to leave town and try to build a new life elsewhere. But when Twin Mirror starts he’s just arrived back in Basswood, and he has a lot of ghosts to face.
From Dontnod, the same team that brought us Life is Strange and Tell Me Why, Twin Mirror is delivered in a similar style. The way you take control of Sam and interact with his environment is instantly familiar, but Twin Mirror feels… more grown up, almost. It doesn’t deal with teenage conflicts and supernatural powers; it’s the story of a grown man dealing with his internal demons, while also trying to get a hold on what’s happening around him.
Sam’s best friend Nick just died. The police ruled it a terrible accident, but Nick’s daughter, the precocious teenage Joan, is convinced something more sinister is afoot. Knowing you’re an investigative journalist, she asks you to see what you can find out. You can promise her you’ll look into it, or try not to get her hopes up, but either way, Twin Mirror will suck you deep into a mystery that’s even darker that you could have anticipated.
Like Dontnod’s other games, player choice is a big part of Twin Mirror. As Sam, you’ll be asked to make dialogue choices, many of which will shape Sam’s character and the way people perceive him. Some of these decisions aren’t simple A or B choices, however; Sam is constantly ‘accompanied’ by an imaginary figure, known simply as ‘Him’. Acting something like Sam’s conscience, he’s a big part in Sam’s decision-making. But whether Sam listens to him is ultimately up to you.
Sam’s imaginary friend isn’t the only mysterious part of his mind, either. He also has a ‘Mind Palace’; a place he goes inside his own head when he needs to organise his own thoughts. This Mind Palace forms the basis of Sam’s investigations; when he finds clues or evidence, it’s in his Mind Palace that he puts those clues together, forming a plausible chain of events in his head.
These investigations are a big part of Twin Mirror, and they’re hugely enjoyable. A little like a point and click game, you’ll have to search environments for clues and pieces of information that may or may not be important. When you’ve gathered everything an area has to offer, you’ll take the evidence to Sam’s Mind Palace, and there you can see a reconstruction of events. You can tinker with elements to see an event play out in a certain way – but there’s always only one way that’s consistent with the evidence Sam finds. It’s a neat twist on the detective genre, and correctly putting evidence together is hugely rewarding.
Outside of these investigation sections, you’ll take control of Sam as he interacts with old friends and residents of Basswood. You’re limited on freedom, however, as you’ll only ever be able to explore small areas at a time. It’s all about pushing the narrative forward, moving from one key scene to another. But thankfully, each story beat keeps you interested, and as Twin Mirror‘s excellent narrative unfolds, you’ll be glued to your seat.
The trouble is, it all feels over too soon. After a fairly slow introduction, by the time you’re conducting your first investigation as Sam you’ll be fully invested in figuring out what’s going on. To reveal too much of the story would ruin part of the experience, but needless to say, you’ll be kept guessing throughout. It feels much like a classic detective mystery, and that’s perhaps what makes it so enjoyable. But it’s hard to shake the feeling that the narrative is somewhat rushed. The conclusion seems to come out of nowhere; just as you’re primed to do more investigating, everything’s already been figured out.
And so, Twin Mirror will take you four or five hours to complete. It’s not unusually short for a game of this type, but the plot and setting lend themselves for more; more time to dwell on the town’s happenings, and more time to get to know its residents. As it is, it feels like a flying visit. Even Sam’s Mind Palace could have been expanded on more. Plot ends that feel like they deserve a major revelation – like the identity of Sam’s imaginary friend – become little more than a seconds-long ‘by the way’, and it’s a little deflating.
Still, it’s difficult to criticise a game for leaving you wanting more; usually it’s a good sign that everything it does have is done right. And that is true; Twin Mirror has an excellent narrative, expertly told. It looks fantastic too, thanks to employing a more realistic art style than Dontnod’s other games. The animation is wonderfully done, and the soundtrack perfectly sets the scene throughout. But all of that makes it more frustrating that there isn’t… more.
Its brevity aside, Twin Mirror is an investigative thriller worth playing. A more grown-up story than Dontnod’s other narrative endeavours, it’ll keep you glued to your screen as you unravel its dark mysteries. Sam is an intriguing and complex protagonist, and the people he meets along the way are equally rich and realistic. It’s just hard to shake that feeling of disappointment, though, when it all gets wrapped up a bit too quickly.