What happens when a town falls apart? And what does that town look like if you’re the reason for its demise?
In Twin Mirror you play as Sam Higgs, an investigative reporter returning to his hometown of Basswood. While the reasons for Sam’s departure are unclear at first, over the course of the game you piece together a rather intriguing story: Sam Higgs left Basswood after writing an article exposing the poor working conditions of the local mine. This mine employed many of the local townsfolk and created prosperity in the town — but once it closed, Basswood fell to ruin.
Sam wears much of the blame for the town’s demise, and he flees after suffering a mental breakdown. That leaves a trail of painful memories and broken relationships, ones Sam must confront after his best friend Nick dies in the town under mysterious circumstances.
Sam’s return to Basswood is filled with loneliness and guilt. He’s forced to confront his pariah status in the town, as well as the consequences of leaving. Nick’s daughter Joan demands accountability for her lost uncle. Sam’s ex-girlfriend Anna demands justice and answers for Nick. That pressure results in a rather unique coping method: a splintered personality and a psychic arena known as ‘the Mind Palace’.
In the Mind Palace, Nick can gather all the information he’s collected to form new hypotheses and rearrange his thoughts. It slows time on his end and gives him space to breathe away from the pressure of real life.
It riffs off ideas found in real-life psychology, existing as a means to maintain control. The Mind Palace is perfect for escaping to a safe space and reordering Sam’s thoughts. It also requires a strict level of concentration and control to maintain, which can be broken by the realities of Sam’s life.
Part of this maintenance is aided by the rational half of Sam’s mind. It exists as a separate entity and guides him through the decision-making process, splitting his decisions in-game by adding a rational commentary to his scattered thoughts.
To cope with the reality he’s facing and the potential murder of his best friend, Sam relies heavily on his Double to make decisions. The conversations they have and the strict control he maintains in his Mind Palace function as representations of dealing with severe anxiety and depression.
Sam Higgs is not okay.
Twin Mirror is fundamentally a murder mystery, but it isn’t afraid to explore the effects of mental illness and being neurodivergent can have on life. Superficially, Sam appears to be coping well. But upon entering his Mind Palace, or whenever his Double appears in everyday conversations, we see how shattered his sense of self really is.
It’s represented in the titular Mirror-like world, where memories and images form in shattered glass. Mirrors are a recurring motif within the game, representing Sam’s sense of self and his perceived reality. It’s an effective visual too, making for some stunning scenes on the strange and broken roads of his mindscape.
The further he explores the reality of Nick’s death and its potential to be a outright murder, the more Sam’s worldview shatters. His mindscape becomes more frantic as he discovers the truth and it’s represented in his outward behaviour towards Anna and the townsfolk, as well as the visuals within the Mind Palace.
While the opening chapters present a Mind Palace in perfect, orderly form with memories arranged by object type, later chapters see the Mind Palace in shattered form. Dim lights hover in Sam’s mind. Bar stools and bottles float aimlessly in the air. A maze forms in the centre, and Sam nearly loses himself inside it.
Twin Mirror frequently dips into horror to demonstrate Sam’s loosening grip on reality. His coping methods are strained as the investigations continue and he’s confronted by the impact he’s had on the people of Basswood.
While Twin Mirror is a game firmly rooted in reality, its use of surrealism allows a powerful exploration of mental illness and how it can warp the perceptions of the human mind. Sam Higgs is allowed to be vulnerable, and the gameplay and story benefit greatly from this openness. Mental health is a topic seldom explored in gaming because it’s hard to get right. But Sam’s story in Twin Mirror feels authentic.
As an exploration of mental health and its subtle effect on the everyday, Twin Mirror is profoundly emotional. It’s a poignant, thoughtful spin on small town living and how we perceive the world. In the next gen rush, Twin Mirror‘s heart and humanity should not be forgotten.
Twin Mirror is out now for PC, PS4 and Xbox One. This writer was provided a review copy of the game.