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Let’s lay out a little scenario. You’re a journalist who has just uncovered a big secret in your hometown. Only when you wrote about it, the story upset everyone in said town, and you hightailed it out of there and haven’t been back since. But then, after two years, you find out your friend has died, and you have to go back home for the funeral. Your friend’s daughter corners you and says she thinks her dad’s accident wasn’t an accident, and asks you to look into it for her…
Not sure what this plot belongs to? I don’t blame you; it’s become a pretty common cliche in murder-mystery media. For the purposes of this review, this is the plot to Twin Mirror, a decision-based game that follows Sam, a journalist returning to his hometown for the funeral of his friend, Nick. At the wake, Sam is confronted by Nick’s daughter, Joan, who pleads with Sam to look into her father’s accident.
Once Sam agrees, he spends the rest of the wake drinking and wakes up the next morning to a bloody shirt in the bath tub of his motel room. He begins to prod the people and places of Basswood to figure out exactly what’s going on, both with himself and with Nick’s death.
I’m going to be brutally honest here; the gameplay in Twin Mirror isn’t good. It’s frustrating. Most of the game centers around making decisions and exploring crime scenes, and both areas leave much to be desired. The decisions make a difference, but often these are so small they start to feel pointless. Why read your options when you can just randomly click your way through and get similar results? Sure, there are different endings that come with some choices, but honestly, the plot is so bland that it doesn’t matter.
Then there’s crime scenes. Investigations require you to find clues in a certain order, which you have to guess yourself. If you’re wrong, you get to just wander around the scene, hoping that you’ll eventually come across a little X symbol that will solve all your problems. For that clue, at least. This quickly becomes frustrating, and I found myself just turning the game off after walking the scene over and over for thirty minutes. I would come back later and discover something that I’d missed, but there was no joy in it. It was more a “finally, I can move on” scenarios. Ugh.
The game also incorporates the now familiar “mind palace” aspect to investigations. Sam often retreats into his mind, which gives us glimpses of memories, Sam’s mental state, and provides a way to analyze evidence and hypothesize. However, the mind palace isn’t necessary to any of those things, really. We can clearly tell that Sam is distressed without the mind sequences. While seeing the memories replay is interesting, they could have just as easily been shown through flashbacks, and that probably would have been more understandable and connected.
Developing the explanations for events with evidence also doesn’t quite work in the mind palace. It feels no different from just analyzing the clues yourself and connecting the dots. Overall, the mind palace aspect is just out of place and unnecessary.
The writing of Twin Mirror is also incredibly dull. There’s nothing that really grabs your attention in the story. The characters are one dimensional at best, the dialogue feels awkward, and the progression is a straight line, no twists or turns that keep you invested. There’s nothing that connects you to the story or makes you feel anything for the characters, and much of the plot seems to hinge on events the player doesn’t know anything about. It’s boring, bordering on unplayable.
Twin Mirror is a miss. The graphics are nice, but the characters hardly have any expression, despite the obvious attention paid to detail, which becomes a bit hard to look at after a while. The plot is thinner than paper, and the best gameplay is when you actually get to play Pac-Man on the old arcade machine in the bar. Don’t be fooled by the smoke and mirrors; Twin Mirror is a mediocre mystery with gameplay so frustrating and lackluster it deflates any interest you’ll have in seeing it through.