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'Twin Mirror' Could Be A Diamond In A Heavily Bloated Genre

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'Twin Mirror' Could Be A Diamond In A Heavily Bloated Genre

Twin Mirror was first announced at E3 2018 as a psychological thriller from DONTNOD Entertainment - the French developers behind the Life Is Strange series - and seemed to be looking to expand the somewhat bloated choose-your-own adventure genre into interesting new frontiers.

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There was even gameplay released in the tail end of 2019 which showed a wonky mix of decision-based puzzles and challenges, an intriguing Mind Palace mechanic (more on that in a minute) and a release window of the end of the same year. But then, in true psychological thriller style, it vanished without a trace.

Fast forward to July 2020, and the game has re-appeared with gusto. We were invited to take a look at the first 17 or so minutes of gameplay capture on PC via an online stream, to get a taste of what Twin Mirror was about.

Twin Mirror / Credit: DONTNOD Entertainment
Twin Mirror / Credit: DONTNOD Entertainment
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So, what is it all about? Well, you play as ex-investigative reporter Sam Higgs who's returned to his hometown to attend the funeral of his best friend Nick, who tragically died in a car crash. While there he relives some painful memories and catches up with Nick's 13-year-old daughter whom he is the godfather of, and now has a legal responsibility for.

As things transpire, Sam ends up missing the funeral because he decided to take a load off at a viewing point overlooking the Rust Belt mining town of Basswood, West Virginia. With the sun slung low across the green mountainous horizon, Sam ponders the reasons he left in the first place, which forces him into his Mind Palace. Sam, you see, has what is described as a "forensically analytical mind" which leads him to have picture-perfect memories that he can store away and relive at a later date.

Using a Mind Palace (Sherlock says hi) in the section we saw, Sam just remembers the most cringe-worthy things that have ever happened to him. If that's not a mood, I don't know what is.

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Twin Mirror / Credit: DONTNOD Entertainment
Twin Mirror / Credit: DONTNOD Entertainment

The manifestation of Sam's Mind Palace is interesting. A glacious and fractal world where his perfect memory is strung out in vivid detail, over a presumably endless expanse of thoughts. This has been redesigned heavily since we last saw it (in the gameplay footage from 2019), but the idea of using your own brain as a sort of Rubik's cube to build a memory or discover a clue is a novel one, and it'll be interesting to see how DONTNOD plans on working this into the game's narrative.

In Life Is Strange, Max was able to use her powers to manipulate time and re-make decisions that might have undesirable consequences. Sam, sadly, looks like he's being forced to remember them in crushing detail, much like we all do at 4 o'clock in the morning.

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Speaking of Sam, he's actually the thing I have the most reservations about after seeing the game. Our main man felt a little one dimensional in the few interactions we saw him have with other characters. For instance, in one of his memories, he reacts to having a marriage proposal turned down by his one true love, with all the ham-fisted grace of a budget Hugh Grant.

Twin Mirror / Credit: DONTNOD Entertainment
Twin Mirror / Credit: DONTNOD Entertainment

Thankfully, it looks like the supporting cast will be interesting and varied enough that those rich human interactions the developers are known for will still be present, though it really is too early to tell having only seen a very brief snippet of the game.

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Looking back at old footage of Twin Mirror and comparing it with the segment we've recently seen, it's clear that DONTNOD have spent their time reworking the game quite a bit. One very obvious manifestation of this is with a character called The Double. The Double is Sam's conscience, who helps guide your decision making process at key moments (yes, the obviously telegraphed 'Option 1' or 'Option 2' path-splitting choices are here) and his mannerisms are markedly different.

Originally smart-talking and sarcastic, The Double seems to have been tweaked to be more grounded and level-headed. A result of poor initial focus testing? Perhaps, but the time has clearly been spent reining in some of the wilder ideas into something more palatable.

The game has that kind of pseudo-realistic style from Life Is Strange, and while less stylised and obviously not as technically gorgeous as other games being produced in these late stages of the present-gen console lifecycle, it still has a certain amount of charm. We're told that the devs are aiming at a "rich cinematic feel inspired by movie thrillers", and they add: "It calls on a combination of classic visual and aural conventions including long, tracking shots, dark moody lighting and a visceral dramatic soundscape."

Twin Mirror / Credit: DONTNOD Entertainment
Twin Mirror / Credit: DONTNOD Entertainment

You'd hope the extra development time, too, will lead to the devs being able to craft a world of well-thought out and meaningful decisions. They'll need to give us something to make Sam more likeable. But then characters like Chloe from Life Is Strange grew to be love-or-hate, polarising or uniting the game's audience. Whichever side of the fence they landed on, at least people had opinions on her. The worst thing that Twin Mirror could possibly do, is make us all completely indifferent to Sam and his story.

The 'choose-your-own-adventure' style may have fallen out of favour (especially with Telltale, whose games undeniably depreciated in quality over time), but I'm willing to give DONTNOD the benefit of the doubt here, especially with their track record of compelling games using a schlocky gimmick as the crux.

They've proven themselves capable of pacing out great stories in Life Is Strange and its sequel, and despite the graphical mundanity of Twin Mirror, it's never been about how good their games look. It's the heart and soul, the story and characters that keep fans coming back to this diamond-in-the-rough genre.

Twin Mirror is still under development, and will be DONTNOD's first self-published game, set for release in 2020 on Xbox One, PS4 and PC.

Featured Image Credit: DONTNOD Entertainment

Topics: Life is Strange

Mark Foster
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