Reviewed on Playstation 4
The opening shot of Twin Mirror saw us approaching a remote town enclosed by the Appalachians and establishments long forgotten by the rest of the world. As we drove further into this standstill town with a Sean Rowe song greeting our ears in the background, we thought, “This is gonna be good!”. Boy, have we ever been so wrong.
As someone who’s loved all of the work DONTNOD has put out before, and considers the first Life is Strange to be one of the greatest works of art in video games since it’s ascension, I was naturally very enthusiastic to test the waters with their latest psychological thriller. However, after the first hour passed, all hope was shattered like a broken porcelain. Here’s our experience with the one that could’ve been their next memorably impactful title.
Thrust into the shoes of protagonist Sam Higgs, an investigative reporter who left his hometown of Basswood, West Virginia to seek greener pastures after a controversial article and a proposal gone wrong, you’re now returning home to attend your best friend’s wake overthinking how hostile the welcome party might get. We notice the setting trend of the quintessentially forgotten and under evolved American towns to continue here, an essence of which they perfectly captured previously with Arcadia Bay. Unfortunately, none of that depth, charm or mystery can be found anywhere in Basswood.
One thing the developers get right is the role coal plants played in towns like these since the vanishing of coal plants from the American landscape began years ago. The effect of their closure as depicted in the game draws real life parallels that’s quite authentic, their efforts to repaint these issues are truly commendable. Apart from this single element, the rest of the landscape feels barren and lacks any personality for it to draw us towards uncovering its secrets.
The first hour of the game sees Sam interacting with other characters at the wake, helping us learn more about his relationships in the past and having his backstory unfold from a second- hand perspective that felt like a fresh interpretation. This segment was perhaps the most well-made with their familiar style of slowly introducing the characters and seemed to work out well. It ended rather abruptly; you wake up the next day with such a bad hangover that the events of the previous day remain foggy (Doug and friends would be so proud). You walk into the bathroom and find your shirt covered in what could’ve been insane amounts of ketchup, and everything goes downhill from there.
The latter duration of the game has you figuring out the events of the past day, as well as trying to prove that your best friend’s death was in fact a murder. All this happens while you go through an internal struggle with your alter ego, Him. Him is unarguably the most interesting character, he interjects with Sam throughout the game and presents moral dilemmas, although no action carries much weight in this journey, which made the game feel short of purpose. What hurts the game is not only it’s dreadful writing, but also that the core murder mystery of the story is just awful. Figuring out the pieces of the puzzle becomes child’s play and there’s no fun playing a whodunit, when you know who’s done it right from the start. The story does attempt to tackle some serious issues such as autism and anxiety, but these psychological elements are represented shallowly and do not amount to anything substantial.
The awkward lines are delivered with even worse voice acting that overall results in subpar experience. Either the editing was off, or the game was just too buggy since all the lines felt like they were cutting into the next one without any natural flow; the same can be said about the pace of the story.
Adding to the long list of issues, the supporting cast weren’t particularly very interesting or imaginative, nor did they have much development over the course of the game. This doesn’t work in the game’s favour considering that the story, characters and their relationships are supposed to be the main focus here.
There’s a complete lack of tension inducing moments that put you on the edge of your seat. This complete lack of thrill and excitement devoid the game of any fun really. At no moment are you ever challenged, both on a gameplay level or a mental level. Your choices don’t have any major consequences, the moments don’t demand much decision making prowess and none of the choices are going to have you tossing and turning at night either. It doesn’t help that the choices and dialogue options aren’t accurately described, so expect your character to say a lot of things that you didn’t necessarily opt for.
I would’ve liked to say that these issues exist only due to it being a full release unlike the shorter episodic adventures they are used to, but that doesn’t seem to be the case here as the central plot itself is entirely a forgetful one. This is a disappointing step down after their recent Xbox exclusive Tell Me Why, which released just a few months ago in August.
For those who are familiar with their older titles, or Telltale’s games, you pretty much know what to expect here. You’ll be spending majority of your time making choices, including small dialogue choices that have far reaching effects and larger, more impactful ones that can directly and immediately affect your story going forward. This minimalistic gameplay is the staple and continues here without any quality-of-life improvements, even after stellar releases like Detroit: Become Human have set new standards for the genre. The least they could’ve done was to integrate a choice chart showcasing other branching parts we could’ve chose instead.
The gameplay would’ve been fine as long it was optimized, but regretfully the game is nearly unplayable on consoles. The button prompts show up only at very specific and difficult angles, and once they do show up your inputs don’t get registered half of the time which leads to a quite frustrating experience. As someone who’s played all their previous games either on a console or with a controller on PC pretty smoothly, it’s baffling to play one in such a dire state.
The investigation element of the game looked promising, but was ultimately an enormous wasted opportunity. For starters, evidence gathering is just inspecting every single highlighted object in the location. It’s mandatory to check all of them out before you can proceed to the next segment, hence there’s no question of missed evidence catching up to you later. Forming hypotheses aren’t much better either, since you’ve to guess the exact combination of events for proceeding further. A much better experienced could’ve been crafted if the players were allowed to form their own predictions and wait until the final reveal to figure out if they were right, this would’ve made it feel much more natural and better flowing.
The new mechanic we’re introduced to this time around is the Mind Palace. The mind palace or method of loci is a strategy of memory enhancement which uses visualizations of familiar spatial environments in order to enhance the recall of information. This is recreated in the game in the most visually striking manner possible. Initially it’s a boon expertly conveying Sam’s history to us, but by the end it’s overused to such an extent and at the most impractical of situations that you start to dread it. They are slightly better made than the rest of the game, but not on par with the nightmares we experienced in Polarized.
The gameplay issues and shallow mechanics present throughout the game made it extremely frustrating to play, and discourages you from a second playthrough even more than its dull storyline.
While we were definitely not expecting the visuals to be on par with other AAA titles released this year, Twin Mirror’s visuals fall well below the bare minimum that’s expected for a game of the generation that’s ending. At best it looks like a mid-era seventh generation game and it’s probably DONTNOD’s worst looking game of the decade.
The performance issues are so prevalent that the following accurately describes our thoughts every five minutes during the game:
The mind palace segments were the only time the visuals looked good and artistically beautiful; they seem to be the only parts that were properly worked on during development, even if framerates can take a huge hit during those scenes. Whenever the visuals manage to look decent for a small second, the immersion was completely broken thanks to the awful motion-capture used for the game. The lip-syncing is incorrect more times than it’s correct, some objects never end up fully rendering during cutscenes, environments disappear in between transitions — you get the idea. We think it’s safe to say that this needed a lot more time in the oven.
Audio & Music
As any DONTNOD game, the soundtrack of Twin Mirror was exceptional and simply perfect. The game being set in West Virginia, it featured country and folk tunes by the likes of Clutch, Sean Rove and many more artists.
Even though the voice acting was pretty sub-par, the music stands out as brilliant when it existed. That’s the thing, the game felt silent most of the time. A lot of the moments where music felt absolutely relevant, we heard nothing at all. We’re unsure whether it was a bug which muted the music, or if it didn’t actually exist in the first place. Nevertheless, the audio is one aspect of the formula that hasn’t lost its lustre.
For the Love of Pac-man
The game has a ton of Pac-Man references scattered throughout its world. Although they don’t serve much of a purpose, they were fun Easter eggs that helped distract us from all the technical issues that plague the game.
There is a fully-playable Pac-Man arcade machine at one of the game’s locations, which proved to be more fun than the actual game.
With bland characters and an uninteresting plot, Twin Mirror encompasses everything a narrative choice-driven game shouldn’t do. It definitely doesn’t live up to any of DONTNOD’s previous work, and its plethora of technical issues make it not even worth a single playthrough.
For more on gaming, check out our review of Devil May Cry 5 Special Edition by clicking here.