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So I've been playing Twin Mirrors, the new narrative, choice-based game from Dontnod. Dontnod, as you may recall, developed Life is Strange and Life is Strange 2 (but notably, not Life is Strange: Before the Storm). Twin Mirrors is sort of a murder mystery with a...sort of sci-fi twist? Or, that's not even really accurate. Psychological? The main character is regularly seen conversing with another person "in his head," and to put clues together, goes to the "Mind Place," which is sort of like a computer simulation, but in his brain, I guess? I haven't finished it, so I don't have a ton of clarity. I did want to make an early impressions post though.
As some might be aware, I *loved* Life is Strange. And I think I probably liked Life is Strange 2 more than many. Twin Mirrors - undoubtedly pulling its name from two big influences from Dontnod developers in Twin Peaks and Black Mirrors - isn't really grabbing me, though. And I'm trying to put my finger on why exactly that is. And I think it comes down to a few different elements.
First, Life is Strange feels way more relatable. Not in the "superpower to rewind time" sense, obviously, but in the main character being this sorta awkward and dorky teenager. This is also true to an extent in Life is Strange 2, which follows two brothers. But between the two, I think the first game will resonate a lot more with more players. In Twin Mirrors, the main protagonist is this kinda hotshot investigative journalist who doesn't really have too much of a personality, so far as I can tell. It's not that it isn't interesting, and it's not like you have to be able to personally relate to a protagonist to enjoy a piece of fiction. But I do think that's one reason why I'm not gravitating as much to this one as I did the previous choice-based Dontnod games.
The second thing is that for some reason, Dontnod kinda hasn't figured out a "power" quite as solid as the time rewind in the first Life is Strange. One of the reasons I don't think Life is Strange 2 works as well is that they have you play as the brother who *doesn't* have powers. That *could* have been interesting if they had more occasions in which how you were interacting with your brother determined how Daniel used his powers throughout the story. The time rewind in Life is Strange 1 is pretty simple and straight-forward, but they did integrate that more into the course of the game from both a narrative and puzzle perspective. And the fact that you as the player could use it even during many meaningless conversations with your classmates went a long way to feeling more immersed in it.
In Twin Mirrors, the "Mind Place" isn't even really much of a thing. Essentially, you look around an environment, look at clues, and when you've interacted with the right set of objects, you go to the Mind Place and then just try to figure out the sequence of events. But it never winds up being anything particularly interesting.
Finally, the biggest problem with the game is that the puzzles themselves are painfully straightforward and unsatisfying. It basically goes the same way every time: you walk around a room. You interact with all the objects the game shows you that you can interact with. Doing so then "unlocks" new items you can interact with. Those are clues. You go to the Mind Place (as an aside, I feel like they could have workshopped "Mind Place" a li'l bit), and while sometimes it might take a little while to put together the right sequence of events, it's rarely more complicated than just re-arranging things. There's very little critical thinking. They also do that thing where the game tells you that you just figured out a puzzle via the internal monologue of the character, Sam. Like, I was *so close* to feeling gratification at solving a puzzle. There were a bunch of notes that felt kind random, and then a lock on a bag. And then I saw something on the wall and put it together in my brain and thought, "Oh, that might be it!" And before I could even try to use this new information to see if I was right, the character says to himself, "Ah! This must be the combination!" And it's like...yo! Couldn't you let me figure that out and see if I was right? I felt like that moment robbed me of experiencing gratification once I tried the combo I thought it was and saw the lock pop off.
So it gets a little hand-holdy, for sure. And while I don't think Dontnod has ever really done puzzles all that well or interestingly, I keep thinking back to one puzzle in Episode 4 of the first Life is Strange. Max and Chloe have a bunch of like, e-mails, photos, and text messages on a white board and it's the players job to put the pieces together. So you comb through each piece of data and look for connections. Time stamps, locations, contact numbers: *you* put it together. The game doesn't hold your hand there. There's nothing when you select one piece of evidence that is correct where the game is like, "AH! You're right! That piece of evidence IS part of the answer!" It does let you know if you've completed the picture or not, but largely, it lets you figure it out.
And it's easily the best puzzle in the game. It makes you feel kind of like an actual sleuth! And in that game, you're just a teenage girl at a pretentious private art high school! So why is it when they get to the game where you play as an actual investigative journalist, none of the puzzles work like that? Not only are the puzzles super simplistic and they don't really let *you* figure things out in any real meaningful way; there are even moments where Sam seems to connect dots that you literally can't as the player because they didn't quite put in enough evidence. Like there's a part where you go to the Mind Place to review the clues you found about a body that you're not sure if you had killed (because you got black-out drunk the night before and got into a fight with that guy), and none of the clues I found proved for sure that Sam didn't kill him. But after you put together the sequence of events that led to his death, Sam says, "Ok, so I know I didn't do it! So who did?" And I'm just like...how does he know that? All we proved was *what* happened. All we know for sure at this point is the sequence of events. But how do we know Sam didn't kill him? So there are some times where it feels kind of contrived.
But there's a nugget of an idea for a totally cool game in there! The idea of playing as an investigative journalist and actually having to look for clues and put sequences together on your own, rather than simply by pressing X on a very limited number of objects you can interact with in the game, sounds pretty neat. Although now that I think about it, I guess that's kiiiiiind of Her Story or more recently, A Hand with Too Many Fingers.
I definitely appreciate Dontnod. And I do generally enjoy the game overall. It's good, I think, to have someone really taking over the narrative, choice-based experience from Telltale. And I also appreciate that Dontnod is not afraid to tackle real-world social and political issues (the game takes place in a former West Virginia coal mining town, and opioids and homelessness are already factoring in). But it's sort of funny wondering if they really did peak with their first choice-based game in Life is Strange. I don't think Twin Mirrors is *bad.* I will note again as well that I haven't finished it. It feels like their might be some gimmick that might come up later to kinda drastically change things, but I don't know that. (Also, the initial conceit was a little more interesting - you wake up after a night of heavy drinking and mixing pills, and you start off piecing together the events from that night, find the person you got into a fight with dead, and then have to figure out if you killed him. And honestly? While that's kinda ultimately like a cross between The Hangover and Momento, it kinda works. But alas, that's not really what the central conceit is. That gives way to a larger murder-mystery that so far seems kinda simplistic.)
I'll probably update with some additional thoughts as I get deeper into the game. I can't imagine it's a terribly long one. I think maybe I just want this game to work more like...I dunno... I guess sort of like an escape room, maybe? Like I want it to let me figure things out and also let me experience the moment where I discover if my new theory is right nor not, rather than it telling me I'm right the moment I interact with the object required to solve the puzzle.