With Life is Strange, Remember Me, Tell Me Why, and Vampyr behind them, Dontnod Entertainment have a very distinct charm and niche. Twin Mirror feels like the culmination of this in every way. I got to spend just a few hours in the town of Basswood as it’s choice-based story, linear gameplay and great writing shone through. This has quickly become one of my most anticipated games of the year and, if you cared about their previous works, it should be for you too.
Twin Mirror opens in a very cinematic style (which you can watch on our Youtube Channel) with lead character Sam making his way back to his hometown of Basswood after a two-year absence. You get little hints of a tragic story as the music plays and the car drives across the country, but none of it is concrete yet. It opts to show you rather than tell you with its use of shots. You see a bottle of “Eftyaxol” sitting at his side (presumably some prescription medication) only for that shot to be interspersed with a letter with “due date” written on it and a newspaper reporting the fatal car crash of a journalist. Sam is not answering his phone as he is enveloped in the music. It is almost dream-like with Sam running on autopilot until he reaches a cliff. “This place was always one for decisions” he murmurs to himself before going forward. The decision in question was one already made – the choice to come back home.
This is where you are introduced to one of Twin Mirror’s central mechanics, the Mind Palace. Sam has a very analytical mind and puts that to work to explain scenarios or pick his next move. The world breaks away as he closes his eyes and he spots a new one, comprised of only the important information. You use this to search through his memories, explain some of his past and try to make sense of it. This is where you are introduced to Anna and Nick, two of the most important characters in Twin Mirror, although neither of them get much direct interaction but tell your story through their past. As you watch Nick play Pac-Man, introduce you to Anna, and you to then propose to Anna only to be rejected, you piece together the relationship dynamic you once had. Nick was the man who died in the fatal car crash. You return home for his wake.
The storytelling in Twin Mirror is absolutely tragic. You grow to learn who these characters are after finding out the rift between you all. You find out their fates and then start to care about them. There’s a certain doomed nature to this relationship that makes it far more compelling to watch. I say watch, as Twin Mirror is a very cinematic game but it isn’t devoid of gameplay. Aside from talking and moving, your Mind Palace offers a puzzle-solving experience later on as you figure out events and the way in which they happened. It also has you interact with a secondary character within your mind; one who is caring and empathetic, your social side. You must balance the right decisions with the easy ones as you return home.
Most people in your town are hostile, invoking imagery of Twin Peaks or The Wicker Man through that dazzlingly weird cultural exchange. As an analytical reporter, you wrote an expose on the danger on the town’s mining population that had the mine, and subsequently all its industry, close down. Whilst the article has done good, the residents don’t see it that way. That’s why, when you wake up the morning after the wake with alcohol and pills around your floor and blood covering your shirt, you must investigate the problem at the heart of this mystery. Twin Mirror consistently kept me going with little asides and more pieces of the puzzle. You might think the blood-drenched clothes would be a good enough mystery for the few hours I spent with it but that was only one of many. It kept me guessing and moving forward with new pieces of information and new parts of the town to explore or re-explore. The timelines here are all a bit weird.
What surprised me about my time in Basswood is just how human everything felt. All the main characters felt real, expressive and genuine but so did any side characters. Talking to a random pharmacist suddenly revealed a little of their life and the way they live it, with the way they speak to you aligning with their personal philosophy. The same is true even of nameless figures. Occasionally, merely talking to an employee would show a person wanting to get out of town but with “too little money to stay, too little to go”.
Talking any more about Twin Mirror might spoil some of what makes it great, but luckily there is so much to like that I don’t think that really matters. From its cinematic use of shots and music, right across to its great writing, Basswood is both a place I never want to visit, yet a place I want to spend another ten hours in. “I have no idea where this will lead us, but I have a definite feeling it will be a place both wonderful and strange”.
Massive thanks go out to Dontnod Entertainment for providing us access to the first few hours of Twin Mirror on PC. The game will be releasing in full on Xbox One, PS4 and PC come December 1st 2020 with Xbox Series X|S and PS5 compatibility – pre-orders are now live. Keep an eye out for our full review then but in the meantime check out our gameplay below.