Twin Mirror, Dontnod's new game (and their first self-published title), has a great premise: you're a troubled man that goes back to his hometown and finds himself involved in a mystery. The reason Samuel 'Muley' Higgs returns to Basstown, West Virginia, is the unexpected death of his best friend... but was it really an accident? Sadly, finding an answer to that question was not as fun or thrilling as we were expecting, as Twin Mirror is far from being another masterpiece in Dontnod's resume.
It Tries So Hard to Look and Sound Smarter Than It Actually Is
Some games only care about beautiful graphics, while others only focus on giving you an addictive experience. Modern graphic adventures, on the other hand, tend to revolve around troubled characters and cool plot-twists. If you're playing a narrative-driven title like Twin Mirror, you're willing to learn about the protagonist and their surroundings, interacting with the environment and other characters but taking the time to explore every aspect of the story. Just by looking at Dontnod's past games, there are plenty of reasons to confirm that this company really knows how to tell a compelling story, but this time something failed in the process, and Twin Mirror ended up a soulless game.
Strike one: Sam is a terrible protagonist. It's okay to have a flawed guy as the main character, and not all protagonists have to be morally faultless, but at least they need to feel relatable, complex... real. Every aspect of Sam feels fabricated to make the plot work, although it's painful to see that wasn't enough. To make things even worse, Sam's only purpose seems to be to justify Twin Mirror's primary mechanic (more on that later), one that has no meaning once you get to the end.
The Worst Protagonist in a Dontnod Game
Strike two: the story relies too much on arbitrary plot devices. Why does Joan, Nick's daughter, believe he was murdered? Why does Sam believe a little girl with nothing but a gut feeling? Why do characters like Dennis, Joel, or Dickie feel like their only reason to exist is to move the plot forward? We have dozens of questions, and Twin Mirror answers none because it's too busy trying—and failing—to be a complicated graphic adventure that delivers a powerful message.
Look, Dontnod games are famous for giving you the freedom to make decisions, ultimately affecting the fate of the characters in a notable way, as well as giving you a bigger picture of the story you take part in. Twin Mirror, however, tries really hard to make you feel the same way, but it's not that hard to see that your choices are meaningless. Sure, you might get one dialog or the other depending on your decisions, but in the end, things play out the same, which ironically makes going for a second playthrough a pointless choice.
Most of the decision making comes from the same idea: Samuel has a split personality, so he can't escape the internal conflict. At first, you're tempted to take a side and choose between the real, edgy Sam or his imaginary moral compass. A couple of hours in, you learn that other characters don't seem to really care if you're a nice guy or a douche, because Twin Mirror isn't even about Sam...
When your protagonist is unlikable and doesn't even feel like the protagonist, when every step you take is an excuse for some random plot devices, and when all interactions are awkwardly animated dialogues that rarely add depth to the story, you're only left with the game mechanics... but guess what? Twin Mirror fails in that department, too.
So... Is This Split Personality Thing a Gimmick?
Strike three: Sam's mental issues make no sense at all. And that's the saddest part because that's the core mechanic.
Just like Max in Life is Strange, Samuel has some kind of superpower that allows him to stop time and visit a place called Mind Palace, where he can relive specific events or analyze several potential situations before making a decision. This, at first, is one of the coolest things of the game, as you really get to know Sam's past, but it's a shallow mechanic nonetheless.
Twin Mirror never explains to you why Samuel has this power, and near the end, they show you that it has nothing to do with his present problems, like being hated by the whole town or never getting over his former girlfriend. To make everything worse, some segments of the game are copy-pasted from old Dontnod games, like running through a maze full of distorted memories. It's unoriginal, but it's also full of superficial symbolism, mirrors being the perfect example.
Twin Mirror is not a game that goes deep into the mental health topic, nor it's a profound mystery game where every decision counts. It's like a low-budget movie written by an ambitious yet inexperienced scriptwriter that abuses all kinds of cliché dialogues and events. And you know what? It makes us sad to sat it because we're big fans of other Dontnod games, and we really know they can do a lot better than this.
For what it's worth, Twin Mirror has 5 alternate endings, and it's only 6-8 hours long. Maybe that's enough for you to try it?