When journalist Sam Higgs returns to his hometown of Basswood to attend a funeral, he suddenly becomes entwined in a mystery regarding the real cause of his friend’s death. He, along with his ex-girlfriend, are thrown into one dangerous situation after another as they dig deeper for a truth about Basswood’s seedy underbelly than was ever thought possible.
Twin Mirror is the latest of Dontnod’s signature ‘choices matter’ genre, now inspired by old crime thrillers set in the gritty reality of small-town America. Basswood, West Virginia heavily resembles the towns you see in popular crime shows such as Twin Peaks and Ozark, employing a rich cinematic feel throughout the entire experience thanks to its dramatic plot, moody lighting and overly-serious tone.
As with many of its previous titles, making on-the-fly decisions is a crucial part of progressing Sam’s investigation. There are moments on the story where you’re confronted with a decision to make: tell a lie or spill the truth, cover up a crime or report it to the police. Some of these moments also signal the appearance of the Double, an imaginative figure who offers some advice on the choice you’re about to make. Each one is supposed to branch off the story and take it in new directions.
Except it doesn’t do that at all. It’s no surprise if you’re already familiar with previous Dontnod games, but most of the choices you make over the course of the story don’t affect the ending at all. They don’t even seem to have any immediate outcomes either, just small differences in dialogue that largely goes unnoticed. I felt so restricted in how I approached the game, in which my two playthroughs of making different decisions still led me to the same outcome. I’ve never known a game with five endings to feel so linear.
This also extends to the Mind Palace, Twin Mirror’s physical representation of Sam’s mind where he can recall distant memories and piece together scenes from the investigation. In terms of the latter, there are sequences where you explore the Mine Palace’s rough reconstruction of events that happened earlier, gather clues, and then logically conclude how they occurred.
It doesn’t make you feel like you’re doing an investigation at all, because Twin Mirror leaves you no room for failure. Get some of the facts wrong and it’ll just tell you to fix it before letting you continue. If you want to feel like you’re doing real detective work, you need to look at a game like L.A. Noire for inspiration. That was a game where mistakes could be easily made during the infamous interrogation sequences, and potential outcomes were locked off if you underperformed. Instead, Twin Mirror puts you in the passenger seat for its entire mystery and it feels bad.
Then there are the characters, of which there are quite a few of them. It’s nice to have a mystery story which expands its cast so it isn’t just focused on a core few, but it’s not like anything ever happens with these people. You meet them all in the beginning first act, as subplots are seemingly introduced to be developed later, and then the game doesn’t follow through with it. You don’t even see a lot of them in the second half of the game.
But with a disappointing lack of characterisation in Twin Mirror’s secondary characters comes an interesting revelation in its protagonist, Sam. He’s presented as a loner, often misunderstanding his relationships with others and having trouble holding on to them. A flashback scene also shows this to be the case since he was a child.
As an autistic man, I found a lot of Sam’s behaviour and mannerisms to be akin to my own. I have a flight response which kicks in when I feel like the whole world is against me, echoing Sam’s departure from Basswood, and a lot of his responses to other characters eerily echo conversations I’ve had in the past, including his awkward arrival at the funeral’s wake. Maybe this is a big reach, but with some of these similarities I can’t help but believe Sam is autistic too.
It’s played a little too literally, but the Double acts as a personification of the side of Sam’s mind which makes decisions. There’s this common complaint about Dontnod games where the choices are often presented too binarily, where it’s either this-or-that, with no room for nuance or compromise. Similarly, a trait of autism can be its ‘black and white thinking’, the part of our minds which struggle with grey areas in communication. When Sam is confronted with a decision to make, it’s usually a choice between two outcomes, even if a third action could be possible. But if we run with the autism theory, this aspect of the gameplay fits perfectly with Sam’s character and is a detail I appreciate.
Dontnod has not said if this is true, and I’ve reached out to the developer’s writing team to confirm if Sam really is autistic, and it’s a little disappointing to see the subject doesn’t get explored further because it would have been amazing to see a better representation of autism in games than has been done before. It’s not perfect of course, as the physical representation of the Mind Palace is reminiscent of the Autistic Savant archetype; a person with autism who has seemingly superhuman knowledge or mental abilities. But until better autistic representation is achieved in a video game, I’ll have to hold onto this.
If you ask me, Twin Mirror is the weakest Dontnod game so far. It has a weak cast, an unengaging mystery, and the most tedious representation of choice I’ve ever seen in an adventure game. Flawed as they were, Life is Strange 2 and Tell Me Why handled their themes with much greater care, but Twin Mirror never gets close to dissecting its themes or doing anything substantial with its characters.
Tested on PC
Also available on Xbox One, PlayStation 4
Developer Dontnod Entertainment
Publisher Dontnod Entertainment
Disclosure a copy of Twin Mirror was provided by Dontnod