The narrative adventure game has received something of a resurgence over the last decade or so. Telltale breathed life into the fledgling genre with the fantastic The Wolf Among Us and The Walking Dead games. Double Fine, headed up by LucasArts alumni Tim Schafer, returned to his roots with Broken Age. Quantic Dream shattered all perceptions of reality with mind-bending games like Heavy Rain and Detroit: Become Human. Oh, and everyone’s favourite sleazy Lounge Lizard – Leisure Suit Larry – is finally back in action. However, I would be remiss to forget the incredibly talented team at Dontnod that gripped us with Life is Strange and boosted the Xbox portfolio immensely with the Game Award-nominated (and hopefully shortly after this is published, winning), Tell Me Why.
However, Dontnod had one more trick up their sleeves in 2020 with Twin Mirror, a brand new adventure title. It’s a big step for the company in a number of ways, serving as their first self-published title. The tone of the game is also darker than you may expect, echoing games made by Remedy like Alan Wake and Quantum Break more than Life is Strange. The game also does away with the episodic format Life is Strange and Tell Me Why used to great effect. With all these big moves, one question remains: is the game any good? Well, let’s find out, shall we?
Beginning with the story and characters, this is unsurprisingly where the game succeeds the most. Twin Mirror tells the story of Sam, an investigative journalist who returns to his hometown of Basswood West Virginia to attend his friend Nick’s funeral. As it turns out, a few years prior, Sam uncovered a conspiracy at the local mine that shook the small town to its core. While his findings saved lives, it also cost many livelihoods, making Sam an unpopular figure in the community. Intent on simply paying his respects and skipping town the next day, Sam has a few too many drinks and pills (never a great combination folks) and blacks out in his hotel room. He wakes up the next day and finds his shirt absolutely drenched in blood. Now, whether he likes it or not, Sam will have to call upon some old friends, as well as his conscience (personified as a dual personality known as “him” that looks rather close to YouTuber and author Hank Green) to find out what happened the night before, clear his name, and maybe even find out what killed his friend.
The story itself treads familiar ground for Dontnod, featuring a similar set-up to both Life is Strange and Tell Me Why: a small town, an uneasy homecoming, a murder mystery. All of this has been seen before and arguably done better in those aforementioned titles, but the mystery itself had me so gripped, I frankly didn’t mind. The game also features a supernatural twist in the form of the Mind Palace, a place where Sam can escape into his own mind and reconstruct crime scenes. While I don’t think this mechanic is as exciting as Life is Strange’s time-reversal, I still found it an incredibly engaging addition, and scenes within the Mind Palace are visually stunning. The game also does an incredible job replicating panic attacks in a realistic and respectful manner.
The characters, unsurprisingly, are great. Anna, Sam’s ex, is a feisty, exciting heroine with a good eye for detail. Nick is an engaging character in the flashbacks we see of him, and his daughter Joan, nicknamed Bug, is a sympathetic figure. The performances all around are rock solid, although there is arguably no standout on the level of Erica Lindbeck or Ashly Burch in Tell Me Why and Life is Strange respectively. Nevertheless, the dialogue here is rock solid, as are the various dialogue options. Sam can be everything from a well-intentioned if traumatized gumshoe to a town bully dependent on how you want to play him, and oftentimes walking the line between the two is necessary.
The gameplay doesn’t differ too much from Life is Strange. It is an adventure game with point and click elements that is mostly easy to understand and follow. The puzzles, especially reconstructing crime scenes, is incredibly engaging, but it can be at times difficult to gather clues or understand the boundaries of a given environment due to the art style (more on that later). Still, if you’ve played Life is Strange, you should feel right at home with Twin Mirror, and if you haven’t, it’s far from a bad place to start. The game also features a fully playable version of Pac-Man, which is a nice touch.
In terms of aesthetics, Twin Mirror is an incredibly mixed bag. By all accounts, the environments look truly fantastic and border on realistic. The character models are also incredibly detailed down to the individual follicles of hair on their skin. The game also runs at a mostly locked 60fps, and loaded incredibly quick on the Xbox Series X, with only the odd framerate drop (mostly in the Mind Palace) or long loading time. However, the animation here, particularly facial, leaves a decent bit to be desired, often landing within the uncanny valley. Pop-in is also a noticeable problem, with characters lacking features as basic as facial hair at times, just for it to appear later. The same goes for some of the detail in the environments. None of these issues are game-breaking, but in going for a photorealistic look, it makes them more apparent and immersion breaking. Still, on the whole, the game looks very good, especially outside of dialogue sequences.
Finally, I’d briefly like to touch upon value. Twin Mirror runs for about 4 hours and 30 minutes which is rather short, although the story is for the most part well-paced (it definitely could have benefitted from another hour still). The game has multiple endings which gives it some decent replay value. However, at a price of £24.99, it ultimately depends on your feelings on the genre. I do think the game is worth a play, but there is no harm in waiting for a price cut or potential Game Pass inclusion at some point down the line.
All in all, Twin Mirror on Xbox is a good game, if a little inconsistent. It’s not the best adventure game out there, but for fans of the genre, it’s still a solid experience. For those who aren’t as keen on the genre, nothing here is going to change your mind. Still, this is a good experience with a gripping story, some great characters, decent gameplay and moments of brilliance. It’s just held back by some unfortunate issues, and the shadow of its better Dontnod adventure siblings.