When I caught a glimpse of Luis Antonio’s Twelve Minutes – a unique small-scale time-loop mystery starring some A-list Hollywood talent and published by Annapurna Interactive – all the way back in 2015, I was instantly intrigued. It seemed fresh and bold, a unique gem standing out from the carbon-copy battle royales and endless annualised sequels that flooded the market. Twelve Minutes promised a rich and emotionally mature story carried by a distinct yet familiar gameplay mechanic that combined the time-loop elements of games like Outer Wilds with point-and-click puzzle-solving. It looked terrific, and even better, it was on Game Pass! To me, Twelve Minutes had the makings of the sleeper-hit of 2021
Oh, if only I could go back in time to lower my expectations.
… and then loop back and lower them some more.
The premise of Twelve Minutes is simple. You take on the role of a man played by James McAvoy (for brevity, I will refer to these unnamed characters by their respective voice actor’s names), who comes home to his small, 3-room apartment for a romantic evening with his wife, Daisy Ridley. After some time exploring the environments and chatting with your wife, a ‘cop’ – played by Willem Dafoe – bursts into the room and accuses your wife of the murder of her father 8-years ago. Eventually, following some janky back-and-forth dialogue, James is killed/knocked out by the cop, or the timer runs out, and the scene resets 12 minutes (Oh, I get it!) prior, leaving you with nothing but the knowledge you gained on your previous run. It’s a solid concept that many players will be familiar with, but Twelve Minutes falls apart quickly following your first loop.
Considering the fact you’re going to complete dozens of loops in the game’s roughly 7-hour runtime, you’d expect the apartment you explore to be full of intrigue and mystery, but unfortunately, the world of Twelve Minutes is an exercise in tedium. I know a game like this doesn’t need to be a graphical powerhouse, but with such a limited setting, you’d expect characters to not phase through each other and clip through walls. Also, it doesn’t help that the assets used throughout look like they were ripped from The Sims: Don’t Tell People How I Live DLC.
The non-descript rooms and sparse interactable objects that litter the apartment are used in the most pointless and illogical ways too, giving the player the barest illusion of agency. It isn’t about using the environment in clever ways; it is about going through trial-and-error to come to an overly complicated solution to a non-existent problem, following an oppressively linear path. It’s all well and good to let me take a Polaroid hanging from the fridge, but when that decision interrupts the flow of another character’s rant, and I can’t simply solve the issue by handing the photo back to him, it makes me feel like I am nothing more than a voyeuristic passenger watching someone else’s story. If you get one part of this mind-numbing Rube Goldberg machine wrong, well, it’s back to the start for you.
I know this game isn’t meant to be ‘fun’ per se, but fucking hell, it’s beyond boring.
It gets even worse when it comes to dialogue choices. Sometimes, the game decides to highlight a dialogue branch that has entirely been exhausted of information – sometimes, it doesn’t. Sometimes an intrusive question will force a character to divulge further details of their past – and sometimes, they’ll storm out of the room. Every choice feels like a flip of a coin rather than choosing the ‘right’ choice based on what you have learned from your previous runs — even asking questions in the wrong order or while in the wrong room will torch your run and force you to start again. I understand the game is trying to portray people as complex, but it is hard to navigate the dissonance when the rest of the mechanics are so static.
I could forgive the lacklustre gameplay and acting if the writing were solid, but somehow Twelve Minutes’ story is the worst part of the game. I have no idea what message or morale developer Luis Antonio is attempting to convey here beyond ‘people are forever inherently bad’. Twelve Minutes forces players to make some genuinely horrific decisions to progress the plot and lacks any tact in handling them. It’s all shock for shock’s sake, with no exploration into the consequence or weight of these decisions.
This lack of morality in these forced decisions is exacerbated by the weighty themes the game explores. For example, early on in the game, you learn your wife is pregnant, but to unlock the cop’s backstory, you’re going to need to drug her again and again. At no point does the character ruminate on how horrific this situation is beyond a quip of ‘Oh, these pills are big, I will need to dissolve them.’. The whole story revolves around how much you love your wife, yet your character shows no issue with using sleeping pills on her and his unborn child. It just doesn’t make any sense, and as with many other ‘twists’ in the game, it lacks a modicum of build-up or pathos. The game handles incest and domestic violence themes with the tact of a YouTube comments section waiting to get a disgusted reaction from an audience and patting itself on the back for being ‘subversive’. How this game shipped without content warnings is beyond me, especially following the recent Boyfriend Dungeon controversy.
It’s hard to list all the ways in which Twelve Minutes went wrong, and even while I write this review, I feel like I have barely scratched the surface of the myriad ways the game pissed me off. Even the inevitable comparisons to David Cage/Quantic Dreams games will go wanting – at least their games attempt to have humility. I have seen reactions to this game being quite mixed online, with some people adoring its bold storytelling and minimalistic style, but I just cannot get on board.
Twelve Minutes is a game that initially intrigued me, bored me quickly and repulsed me by the end, and I honestly can’t recommend it to anyone.