DONTNOD has become known for its very cinematic choice-based adventures. Whether it be “Life Is Strange” or “Tell Me Why,” audiences can depend on it for stories packed with intricate characters and surprising twists. The studio’s latest offering is “Twin Mirror,” a psychological thriller set in the fictional town of Basswood, West Virginia. This is DONTNOD’S first self-published game after partnering with Square Enix and Xbox Game Studios for past titles. Does this venture into publishing merit a playthrough?
Confronting your past
“Twin Mirror” follows the story of Sam Higgs, a former investigative journalist, who is drawn back to his hometown following the sudden and tragic death of a close friend. Higgs knows that returning to Basswood, West Virginia, would bring up some of the ghosts of his past, as he finds himself having to deal with much more than he bargained for when dark secrets come to light.
Nine times out of 10, DONTNOD titles live and die by their story. With such an emphasis on the narrative, gameplay usually becomes a supporting tool, which is OK when executed correctly. I was really impressed with how the developers handle exposition and world-building in “Twin Mirror.” We open with Sam on his way back to his hometown for the first time in years for his friend Nick’s funeral. When he first arrives, the way he interacts with the different characters and world around him gives us clues to Sam’s complicated past.
For example, in one of Higgs’ biggest stories as a journalist, he did an exposé on a local mine. His work resulted in the mine being closed, which caused many to lose jobs and damaged livelihoods. Because of this, many of Basswood’s citizens have a grudge against Higgs, and this is present in the dialogue. When walking through the bar, characters mumbled things like “you’ve got some nerve showing your face here” or “that’s the guy that got the mine closed.” The player gets a great sense of what Sam’s reputation is like, which informs the way we approach interactions.
A thrilling mystery
As mentioned, Higgs is drawn back to Basswood following the tragic death of his best friend Nick. Though he died in a seemingly random car crash, there may be more beneath the surface, as some believe Nick was murdered. With his investigative background, Sam begins to unravel the truth behind Nick’s death, uncovering some sinister truths. It’s a fascinating mystery that took some turns I wasn’t expecting. With “Twin Mirror,” DONTNOD proves once again that it is a master at crafting compelling stories with unexpected twists and turns.
One issue I had when playing through “Twin Mirror” was that our protagonist simply seems bland. Though he has a complicated past and some intricate relationships, Sam Higgs feels incredibly generic. From his look, to his blasé persona, he just feels uninteresting.
The developers play with this a little bit, as one of Sam’s unique abilities gives him a double, a more talkative and outgoing version of himself that only he can see and communicate with. This double drops in from time to time to comment on Sam’s actions and decisions, often playing the role of that little devil on his shoulder. It provides for some pretty interesting interactions throughout the story.
In addition to his double sidekick, Sam Higgs has another unique ability that helps him with his sleuthing. The mind palace is a place where Sam is able to mentally retreat to, where he can act freely and move at his own pace. It’s here that we get brief flashback sequences that reveal more about his past. In addition, the mind palace is used for investigation, as Sam will simulate scenarios and analyze environments/information.
As is common in DONTNOD games, players’ decisions are a major factor in steering the game’s narrative. I was impressed with the amount of range and diversity available in the majority of player decisions. This is where Sam’s double factors in once again, as he will often give him alternative options for major decisions, forcing Sam to choose between one side.
“Brought to light”
DONTNOD’s self-publishing debut is a worthwhile experience. “Twin Mirror” is anchored by a fascinating, unraveling mystery and its complex relationships between characters. Though our protagonist feels a bit generic, his unique abilities add a solid spice to gameplay. DONTNOD continues to be an expert at crafting unique and engaging stories.
This review is based on a digital download code provided by the publisher. Twin Mirror is available now on PS4, Xbox One, and PC for $34.99. For the latest information about videogames, visit http://www.shacknews.com.