Twin Mirror is Dontnod Entertainment’s long-gestating mystery thriller, and judging by the 20-minute hands-off preview I experienced recently, Dontnod made the right choice in prolonging its development to refine its decision-driven, cinematic gameplay.
Players take on the role of former investigative reporter Sam Higgs, who returns to the fictional town of Basswood, West Virginia for his best friend Nick’s funeral. With many painful memories of his hometown, Basswood is the last place Sam wants to visit. Ultimately, Sam must make a choice between confronting his past and making peace with those he left behind or using his uniquely analytical mind to uncover the settlement’s murky past.
Sam is damaged. Think Chloe from Dontnod’s Life Is Strange franchise, and you’ll get the idea. The opening cinematic illustrates that, with Sam choosing to toss his phone onto the backseat of his car rather than answer a simple text.
Twin Mirror has received a major visual overhaul since its initial reveal in 2018, and while walking along the path towards Basswood’s promontory, it was evident how much work Dontnod has put into the game’s lighting and depth of field. The draw distance is better than in previous efforts, and the setting sun’s rays cast believable light and shadows.
Sam moves at walking speed — though the presentation didn’t make it clear if he can jog or run — and can inspect objects and points of interest near or far away. One example during the demo saw Sam interact with a spyglass, which transported him to his “Mind Palace,” Twin Mirror’s most unique feature.
The Mind Palace is a place of refuge where Sam can access his memories and reconstruct events using logical deduction. It’s Sherlock Holmes-esque but allows you to fill out Sam’s backstory and use his past to help you make key decisions as you play.
It’s an intriguing gameplay addition, but it’s hard to determine how crucial it will be in gameplay yet. The transition between the real world and Sam’s mind palace is seamless though, and it seems like it won’t cause loading issues, unlike with Life Is Strange.
Twin Mirror’s pause menu currently includes three main tabs: Investigations, Journal, and Stats. The Investigations tab lists tasks to be completed, while the Journal contains character profiles and mementos — collectibles that provide background on Sam’s relationships with Twin Mirror’s supporting cast.
However, there was no mention of what the Stats page contains. It could be similar to in other player-choice games including Life Is Strange, providing details on what percentage of players made the same choices as you.
At Nick’s wake, Sam is greeted by Joan, Nick’s daughter and Sam’s goddaughter, triggering an awkward conversation showcasing Twin Mirror’s dialogue-driven choice mechanic. Players are given the usual two-to-four responses to choose from at various junctions, shifting the conversation accordingly. However, they don’t seem like they’ll impact chats much until “The Double” arrives.
The Double is Sam’s alter-ego. He helps Sam navigate tough social situations and offers him alternative viewpoints to consider ahead of big decisions. These decisions will have game-wide implications on your relationship with that character and how Sam’s story progresses.
In the demo, Sam sided with The Double and told Joan that he wouldn’t dig into Nick’s questionable death, which naturally upset her. It’ll be interesting to see how this mechanic develops depending on which choices you make.
Will The Double become more forceful or sympathetic if you ignore or agree with him? It would add an extra dimension to these interactions if that proves to be the case.
From what I saw, Dontnod’s next game is shaping up to be pretty intriguing. It builds upon the player-choice structure that the company has become known for, but it adds a significant amount of graphical polish and a grander cinematic feel that was perhaps lacking in previous projects.
If there is one big criticism to be made against Twin Mirror, it’s that its lip sync technology needs fixing. Lip movement feels sticky and unnatural, interrupting immersion. Still, everything else graphically has been improved over other Dontnod titles.
Twin Mirror will release on PC, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One later in 2020, and while there is the potential for it to be a little samey when compared to Dontnod’s other titles, its original story, Mind Palace mechanic, and The Double help it stand out. If Twin Mirror’s lip sync technology can be refined, and if it’s different enough from what’s come before, Dontnod could have another hit on its hands.