Over the past decade, Dontnod Entertainment has established itself as a capable developer of solid adventure games. The French studio’s upcoming game, Twin Mirror, looks like a promising continuation of that thread, at least based on a hands-off preview shown this week.
Those expecting another adventure game in the vein of Life Is Strange both will and won’t be disappointed. The two games unmistakably share a lot of DNA. Both lean heavily on troubled main characters and choose-your-own-adventure elements. Like Life Is Strange, Twin Mirror opens with a moody indie folk track (“You Keep Coming Alive,” by Sean Rowe). Those first moments also take place on an empty road lined with nostalgic autumn leaves, a quintessential snapshot of Americana that was expertly captured throughout Life Is Strange 2.
But there are a few ways in which Twin Mirror is not at all like Dontnod’s popular emotion simulator. For starters, with Twin Mirror, the developers are clearly gunning for realism. This game—or at least what was shown off this week—is visually stunning. Rather than the unique cartoonishness of Life Is Strange, Twin Mirror’s environmental design looks like a living, breathing photograph of rural America.
There’s also—again, at least in this week’s preview, which was 20 minutes of footage narrated by someone from Dontnod—a notable lack of supernatural game mechanics. Both Life Is Strange games went all in on inhuman powers (time manipulation in the first one, telekinesis in the sequel). You’ll find nothing of the sort in Twin Mirror. “The story itself, the logic of what’s happening, the motivation of the characters, all of this is rooted in reality,” Florian Desforges, Twin Mirror’s game director, told The Verge in an interview last month.
Twin Mirror’s main character, Sam Higgs, is a former investigative reporter of the hard-boiled variety, the type who says lines like, “Time to kill before the funeral and nowhere I wanna kill it.” Sam has returned to his hometown, the fictional Basswood, West Virginia, to attend the funeral of his recently deceased best friend, Nick. In case you don’t understand that this is a rundown American mining town, there’s a bar literally named The Coal Miner’s Haven. The vending machine outside flickers on and off. Unplucked weeds poke out of cracks in the curb.
Sam’s gimmick is that he has a razor-sharp memory and analytic skills. These present obvious benefits for a career in investigative journalism. How they manifest in gameplay is less clear. In the part of the game I viewed, Sam entered his “mind palace” after visiting a personally meaningful location. There, he relived past memories—meeting his girlfriend, then getting dumped by his girlfriend—with word-for-word accuracy. Think back on a powerful, years-old memory of your own. You might be able to recall what happened and how it made you feel. But can you remember every word? That should give you an idea of how Sam’s brain works.
The mind palace itself is full of typical sci-fi visual motifs: triangular shapes, fragmented bits of reality, blurry vision, distorted voices. Beyond the fact that it exists and is a part of the game, Dontnod didn’t show much of the mind palace. It all looks supernatural, but I got the sense it’s more of a (very pretty) game mechanic than a superpower. It’s fun to explore memories in a physical space rather than in a menu, and I’m curious to see more of how it functions in the full game.
Sam is constantly accompanied by a man named The Double. He’s probably a figment of Sam’s imagination; Sam is the only person who can see or interact with him. Plus, they look and sound like identical twins. The Double serves as a devil’s advocate, popping up at crucial moments to offer up alternative courses of action. For instance, at the end of the demo, Sam meets up with Nick’s daughter, who asks him to investigate her dad’s death. On the one hand, he has a peerless analytical mind and looking into mysteries is kind of his jam. On the other, as The Double points out, it’s not fair to promise action to a bereaved teenager if there’s any possibility that, actually, nothing can be done.
The rest of the gameplay appears much like Life Is Strange fare: walking around, interacting with stuff, making decisions about story beats while The Double offers his input. As Dontnod explained in the video, every choice you make, no matter how small or large, has some degree of consequence. Dontnod says sometimes that might result in something as small as a tweaked line of dialogue. Other times, your decisions “change everything.” Like many games with such mechanics, there are no “right or wrong answers.”
After 20 minutes, I was intrigued yet confused. Many of the elements that are so appealing about Life Is Strange are present here, but the apparent lack of supernatural elements, at least in what I saw, disappointed me a little. A physically manifested mind palace? An otherworldly identical twin only visible to one person? Sure sounds supernatural to me.
Twin Mirror comes out later this year for PS4, Xbox One, and PC.