The makers of Life Is Strange and Tell Me Why abandon the episodic concept in favour of a self-contained murder mystery in rural America.
Ever since Life Is Strange became a surprise hit, French developer Dontnod have made a name for themselves specialising in interactive storytelling and narrative over action. Their success has allowed them to deal with some increasingly daring subject matter, in both Life Is Strange 2 and the recent Tell Me Why. However, Twin Mirror strays from the Life Is Strange formula, and its episodic format, with a self-contained game you can complete in a day. But Dontnod have kept the familiar critique of modern America, as Twin Mirror deals with subjects ranging from police brutality to opioid abuse.
We all like a good story and The Last Of Us 2, with its deep and compelling narrative, has swept the board at this year’s Golden Joysticks. What makes Dontnod’s approach potentially more immersive, compared to a very linear game like The Last Of Us, is your choices and their implications; in Twin Mirror there is the added element of your imaginary twin to expand on your internal narrative and offer a different point of view – and often some good advice.
There’s been a death in the small town of Basswood, West Virginia and while investigative reporter Sam Higgs had no intention of returning to his hometown the victim is his best friend Nick, another journalist, whose suspicious death brings old memories, and conflicts, to the fore.
As Sam reacquaints himself with the citizens of Basswood you can feel the animosity in the air. Sam published a story that forced the mine to close after an industrial accident and this left many people unemployed, ripping the heart from the rural community. At the first mention of an abandoned mine you can’t help but remember the ending of Night In The Woods, and hope for some similar supernatural shenanigans, but this isn’t that kind of game.
Playing as Sam you’re able to enter a mind palace, which works similarly to the same idea from the Holmes TV series, offering a crystal cloud version of reality where you can explore important scenes to investigate and piece together clues. Working through these investigations is beautiful, as everything is rendered in glittering sliver shards – even a fox jumping into the road looks like a futuristic cubist painting.
Once you arrive at Nick’s wake his daughter confronts you and confides that there might be more to her father’s death than meets the eye. After two years of silence, you feel you owe her some of your time and agree to investigate. Your twin is also sitting in the back seat of the car while she’s talking, telling you if you don’t you’re a really bad person.
This twin, an imaginary friend from your childhood, looks like a cross between a shrink and an Armani model and regularly pops up when there’s a big decision that needs to be made. His alternative take on important situations has you questioning your instincts and sometimes your mental health. It’s these moments when you, as a player, feel real pressure but be aware this isn’t a black and white narrative and Dontnod have managed to create something that feels much more complex than the normal binary, moral decisions.
Things can get quite stressful during your investigation and Sam is not the most together person as it is, since he’s prone to blackouts and pill popping. At one point, just before he’s about to have an anxiety attack, you get whisked to the mind palace and have to perform simple mini-game style tasks to distract Sam and calm him down. This is where you’ll find yourself feeling the most in control during the whole game, even though the choices come thick and fast, and it’s these moments of tension that are most immersive as a player.
The mind palace is not as polished as it should be though and the investigation sequence before the final deduction is particularly fiddly and confusing. Being able to pull the camera back further, to get a clear field of vison, would really have helped but there’s also too much backtracking and needless red herrings, which further the frustration.
Aesthetically, Twin Mirror is pretty impressive. Character models are accurate, the facial animation is Dontnod’s best yet, and the locations are straight out of a Gregory Crewsdon photoshoot and make you want to road trip through rural American now that’s Trump’s out of office. The voice-acting and performances are also up to Dontnod’s usual high standards and give each character a clear identity. The excellent score also does much to set the atmosphere and supports the narrative in all the right places.
Dontnod have again managed a persuasive level of interactivity, at the same time as some articulate storytelling. The concept of the mind palace and your twin also comes across as unexpectedly timely. During lockdown everyone has been forced to confront their internal monologue, and also be part of an entrenched collective unconsciousness, as we struggle to make sense of the new normal.
Twin Mirror is a game about caring about the lives of other people. Where at the start of the game you might interrupt a conversation to try and speed up your investigation, during the final scenes you are much more willing to take the time to listen – and that’s a far more impressive narrative trick than just another flashy cut scene.
Twin Mirror review summary
In Short: A dramatic, emotive and affecting interactive drama that shows Dontnod are still the masters of branching narrative and serious-minded storytelling.
Pros: Excellent script, voice-acting, and story-based interactivity. The shattered glass aesthetic of the mind place looks great. Good music and facial animation.
Cons: Putting clues together in the mind palace can be frustratingly fiddly, ruining the sense of immersion.
By Lucy Orr
Have Fun ^_^
Source: Metro UK