Mirrored: Chapter 1 review
The debut episode of any new series should always leave players wanting more. Mirrored: Chapter 1 certainly does that, but mainly because it really doesn’t offer much in its oh-so-brief duration. Even for an escape-the-room adventure, I haven’t seen nearly enough to make an accurate judgement call on this planned trilogy when all my time so far has been spent confined within the same room, constantly turning in a 360-degree circle and examining the furniture and decorations again and again, desperately looking for the correct way to proceed. After about ninety minutes of game time (half of which was spent maddeningly trying to figure out a poorly clued computer access password), I’m not sure I have any better picture of where this series is headed than when I started.
Mirrored is named for its pair of leading men, twins Nick and Rob – the former gone missing, the other being you. After a frantic late-night voicemail summoning you to his office, imploring you to find something hidden there, Nick mysteriously disappears. The message also mentions “others” who are after what Nick has hidden in his office, so you must race against time to claim it before “they” do.
This is the chain of events conveyed through an opening cutscene that leads to finding yourself in Nick’s unlit office that night, solving a series of puzzles in the hopes of reclaiming whatever mysterious item you’re supposed to safeguard, all while malevolent strangers are in pursuit to get their hands on it first. And this is where you’ll stay for the remainder of episode one.
This, more so than the repetitive music or merely-passable graphics, was what really hindered my enjoyment of the game as much as it prevented much of a plot from forming. There is no change of scenery, no trail of breadcrumbs to follow or mystery to unravel. A cursory glance around the space as the game begins will net you most of whatever story you’re going to find out. Sure, the developers throw you the occasional bone, like perusing Nick’s private emails once you’ve looked up the solution to the frustrating password puzzle online, but it does very little to actually weave an intriguing mystery. Rather, I found myself going through the motions – using a key to open the desk drawer or discovering a secret behind the desk globe – simply because that’s what was needed to move the game along, not because there was any compelling narrative incentive for doing so.
As I opened one lock after another, with achievements popping up to inform me that I’d completed Act 2-1 or Act 3-2 (there were times when an entire “act” consisted of a single mouse click!), it became clear that this room, Nick’s office, would be the full extent of what I’d get to see. With that realization came a grudging acceptance of the Rube Goldberg-esque way the developers have crammed the claustrophobic space with a lengthy scavenger hunt to make you pinball around the cramped office, trying a key here, using an item there. This isn’t always easy, as hotspots aren’t marked, leading to moments of clicking randomly and hoping for the best.
Simply navigating around the room, especially when using a laptop trackpad, is more cumbersome than it should be. The cursor isn’t fixed, so everything on-screen is accessible at any given time, but rotating the camera requires constant clicking-and-dragging, rather than integrating the keyboard or panning when approaching the edge of the screen with the cursor. An on-screen icon brings up both a journal and your inventory, which you’ll have to leave open in order to use, examine, and combine items from it.
Your adversaries, when they do appear, show up via cinematic only. At one point they arrive at the building in which you’ve ensconced yourself, searching the darkened hallways for Nick’s office, a matter that should take minutes at the most. Yet there is no greater sense of urgency to your investigation due to their presence; however long your own search may take, these shadowy figures will cluelessly remain in the building’s hallways and foyers.
The gameplay, however limited, is still tolerable when stacked up against the accompanying music. Without any voice acting to break up the action, the 20-30 second loop of “generic suspense song” gets very old, very fast. And that’s really saying something in a one-hour game. It wasn’t long before I turned the sound down all the way, preferring to rotate and click in silence. The first-person graphics, while nothing to write home about, get the job done, though representing a darkened room on a rainy night is setting the bar quite low. Still, there are moments when the developers make the setting work, like when you’re forced to continue your search by the glow of a flashlight to keep from being seen through the windows. The story, such as it is, is told via animated comic book-style panels that are inserted between acts with some accompanying sound effects like raindrops on glass and car doors slamming.
Clearly the developers wanted to create an escape-the-room game rich in atmosphere, but they’ve hamstrung themselves by rigidly restricting the scope of the actual narrative in this installment. Perhaps the full game experience, once all chapters are released, will manage to alleviate some of the claustrophobia induced by this first outing. But as it stands, Mirrored: Chapter 1 is like being locked in the broom closet and told there’s a wonderland of imagination outside. With that fundamental problem significantly working against it, the rest of the game would have needed to be outstanding in order to set a compelling stage for the remaining two games. Unfortunately, the uninspired music, some poorly clued puzzles, and unclear hotspots further subtract from, rather than add to, this game’s potential. There are still two games left to redeem the series, but so far I am left rather deflated when looking ahead to what’s still to come.
It’s clear what the developers of Mirrored were going for: a thriller involving two twins, one mysteriously vanished, has some appeal. But without reconsidering some puzzle and interface design decisions, as well as providing substantially more content to consume, future installments in this series will have their work cut out for them.