Twelve Minutes Review
As a man who’s lived in a one bedroom apartment with another human being, I completely understand the terror of being stuck in a time loop that resets every 12 minutes. Twelve Minutes is a game shrouded in mystery, but it sets itself in a bleak world that far too many people experience daily. Cramped, barren rooms and seemingly nowhere to hide from life's troubles.
That world becomes increasingly claustrophobic when a deranged police officer kicks down the door, accusing the woman you’ve lived with for years of a murder long forgotten by the world. You’re left clawing at every wall, door frame and cupboard in the house, seeking to learn the truth and escape Black Mirror’s interpretation of the film Groundhog Day.
Having left Rockstar some nine years ago, Luis Antonio had already laid out his plans to create Twelve Minutes, before first revealing the game in 2015. After six years of anticipation, Twelve Minutes is finally thrust upon and after my time completing the game’s multiple endings I couldn’t help notice things seemed a little flat. There’s a lot to like in Twelve Minutes, but there’s always something nagging at you that something is missing.
Now that’s not to say Twelve Minutes isn’t fantastic in some areas. A star-studded cast consisting of Daisy Ridley, James McAvoy and Willem Dafoe all provide stellar voice acting performances. Conversations flow well throughout the game, with most dialogue feeling real. Well, about as real as a man trying to convince his wife he’s stuck in a time loop can be. On top of that, the motion capture performances do a great job of capturing the characters’ emotions. Due to Twelve Minutes fixed camera style, reading characters' faces is completely impossible. To compensate, they focus on the body language of the three characters. Given the confined space they all exist in, it’s impressive that they’ve managed to pull such strong theatrical performances.
Other areas of the game’s world add greatly to the experience too. When I first encountered Twelve Minutes, I found the ordinary apartment it was set in to be bland. Experiencing the game first hand, however, makes it easy to understand that the apartment is there to keep a sense of normalcy. Everything around our protagonist is normal, which amplifies how delusional he seems to the other characters. I’m unsure of the time the game would be set, as the game has no clear technology outside of mobile phones which just adds more intrigue to whatever is going on.
Twelve Minutes is a point and click adventure, a traditional one at that. The character is moved by clicking anywhere on the screen. From there, they’ll either walk to a specified spot or interact with the object you’ve selected. There’s inspiration from old school point and click puzzlers too. From the start, the game is pretty much directionless. Outside of your wife stating she’s made you a dessert and to let her know when you want it, there’s pretty much nothing. Everything from that first loop is up to player interpretation. Twelve Minutes walks a fine line between being a challenging puzzler and a nonsensical challenge. For me, that’s where Twelve Minutes comes off the rails.
At the core of Twelve Minutes issue is the time loop. Every loop, the player's actions prior to the police officers arrival will affect the outcome of how the loop ends. Nothing will trigger the officer, he will arrive five minutes into every run. There are some nice sound queues of course. You can hear his police sirens as he appears, as well as the elevator when he arrives on your apartment floor. That right there is the problem, you have roughly four minutes to explore every aspect of the apartment for how to change the outcome of each loop. You get it wrong? You have to watch the same loop play over and over until you finally get it right.
The logic to each loop is perplexing. Often, the solutions aren’t the clear steps you would think to take in order to resolve the approaching conflict. Some things you do in a time loop will remain in effect until the end of the game, whereas other things will reset every time. There’s a reliance on understanding and retracing every step a character can take. Which is a difficult task, when you consider every step you take results in a different outcome for everyone else. It’s like a locked door with a million keys, but every time you choose incorrectly the lock changes. Becoming stuck in a repeating, unskippable loop can be demoralising, especially when you realise the important part of each loop is the first five minutes.
It’s not helped by how difficult it can be to notice certain things. Certain areas of the game are so dark, you just have to thrash your mouse around and hope the cursor does the job. Locating an item with a cursor requires the utmost precision. Being near it isn’t quite good enough for Twelve Minutes. An additional shout-out to anyone playing this with a controller, because controlling the cursor is like dragging your forehead across a mouse trackpad.
Ultimately, that gameplay loop does affect the narrative. Which on its own is a well-written piece that’s heard by the frustration of trial and error puzzles. I really enjoy the story in Twelve Minutes, it has a twist that it sets up well (although easily deduced once it clicks), but it’s disrupted constantly by directionless, illogical puzzle sections. Which is a shame, because the writing and the performances deserve more than the core experience that was given.
Even the game's atmosphere is top-notch. Hearing people through the walls of the shallow apartment. The tension as you begin to recognise the sound queues for the police officers' arrival. Hearing that knock on the door for the first time and not knowing where to go. So much of Twelve Minutes is done brilliantly, but in a cruel sense of irony, it’s the game part that lets this videogame down.
Twelve Minutes is a difficult game to judge as a whole. There’s a lot here to pull apart and really enjoy. Yet, this is a videogame at its core, and as a game it is often slow and frustrating. In its soul, Twelve Minutes is a fantastic interactive narrative, that’s bogged down by aimless puzzles that leave you with miserably long wait times to punish your failure.
Twelve Minutes (Reviewed on Xbox Series X)
Game is enjoyable, outweighing the issues there may be.
Twelve Minutes is a videogame that is fantastic in every area, except being a videogame. There’s a lot to love, and I think people will overlook its faults. Sadly those faults are there, almost completely tanking an otherwise excellent piece of fiction.