You're minding your own business when a cop busts into your apartment and arrests both you and your wife. While you're trying to figure out what's going on, the cop starts interrogating your wife, asking her questions about a watch and a murder that you know nothing about. The cop punches you in the face, and you find out that you're stuck in a time loop that's only 12 minutes long. You can't leave your apartment, and no matter what you do, the cop arrives. What comes after is just a typical weekday night.
Twelve Minutes, from former Rockstar artist Luis Antonio and Annapurna Interactive, has an intriguing premise at its center. It combines the complex logic of point-and-click adventure games in one of the smallest environments imaginable, an apartment. Then, it tasks you with using a limited amount of resources to figure out the mystery. With a gorgeous and gloomy art style, and an amazing voice cast full of A-list Hollywood stars, Twelve Minutes was shaping up to be one of the summer's most anticipated indie games.
We've spent about six hours with Twelve Minutes, and while the design of both the environment and the core gameplay loop are meticulously crafted, the game suffers due to its repetitive nature and obtuse logic. It's a game that wants to do a lot with a little, which makes some of it impressive, but it ultimately gets bogged down by its own details.
Bottom line: There's a lot to like in Twelve Minutes, but when you start to get into the puzzles at the core of the game, things begin to get bogged down.
- Gorgeous, minimalist art style
- Great voice acting
- Intriguing premise
- Puzzles become too dense
- Time loop makes game feel repetitive
- Trial-and-error gameplay might not be for everyone
Twelve Minutes: What I liked
|Minimum requirements||Windows 7
Intel Core i5-2300 / AMD Phenom II X4 965
NVIDIA GeForce GTS 450, 1 GB / AMD Radeon HD 5770, 1 GB
|Play time||6-8 hours|
Twelve Minutes is a game filled with purpose. First off, it wears its influences on its sleeve. The scene is moody right off the bat, with a Shining-inspired carpet leading into a small, dark apartment. The minimalist environmental design does a lot of heavy lifting to help you get to know these characters. There only seem to be two cups in the whole apartment, the place seems to be covered in blankets and not rugs, and the light switch in the bedroom can electrocute somebody at any time. A thunderstorm rages outside while instrumental music plays on the radio. As the cop approaches your apartment, the storm gets closer.
It's tough to say when this game takes place. Cellphones exist, but the couple listens to old-timey songs on the radio. There's no TV in the apartment, nor any computers. The wife sits on a small couch and reads a book. It makes the whole thing feel out of time, which works well with the more classic nature of the story, its Kubrick and Hitchcockian inspirations, and the murder mystery at its center.
Other elements like the voice acting add personality and livelihood to the game. James McAvoy (X-Men: First Class) and Daisy Ridley (the new Star Wars trilogy) voice the couple, who go unnamed, and Willem Dafoe (Spider-Man) plays the cop. As expected from this caliber of actor, the performances are great. While none of them are specifically known for voice acting, they bring a grounded amount of emotion to each line delivery and imbuing the characters with subtle bits of personality.
There are so many puzzles to solve, and fans of the genre will probably find a lot to like here.
All of this holds up Twelve Minutes and its setup, which is basic but clever. The 12-minute time loop (although it usually ends up being around five minutes) is succinct and easy to understand, which leaves room to learn about what else is going on. What Antonio manages to do in such tiny space is impressive, with basic objects having multiple uses and the three rooms in the apartment going much further than expected. The player does eventually run into some walls and obstacles with figuring out the mystery, but that's to be expected in a point-and-click game. There are so many puzzles to solve, and fans of the genre will probably find a lot to like here. There are few things as satisfying as combining two unrelated objects and getting a new result.
It all sounds great on paper. What brings it all down despite the great setup, however, are the details.
Twelve Minutes: What I didn't like
Successful point-and-click adventures brace a thin line between confusion and understanding. On one hand, you want the game to be complex and the puzzles to be dense, regardless of whether it's the kind of game with few clickable items or one with multiple items you might need to combine. On the other hand, it still needs to have a foundational logic that makes sense and is established to the player, whether the logic lines up with reality or not.
The game has you not only learning the relatively tiny world you're placed into but perfectly learning all of its quirks.
Twelve Minutes, unfortunately, has issues straddling this line, which is odd because it seems to tick all the boxes. It has an underlying logic, a distinct set of parameters to work within, and set goals to reach. However, to get to that end point is a complicated task that requires not only understanding the game's logic, but breaking it down to its tiniest elements. The game has you not only learning the relatively tiny world you're placed into but perfectly learning all of its quirks. This might be engaging for some who love digging into the minutiae of how games work or who like taking things apart, but my experience wasn't enjoyable. It required not only paying attention to where objects were and how they affected the characters, but how long certain things took, what certain pieces of dialogue meant, and how the absolute correct sequence of events can lead to one specific outcome.
For example, I ran into one obstacle trying to get my wife and the cop out of the picture. There's a knife in your apartment that you can use for a multitude of tasks, including violence, but stabbing your wife is … problematic, and stabbing the cop is impossible. In this case, you would need to get the cop to use a light switch that would electrocute him, but it would only do so if it had already been turned on and off. So not only would you need to know that the light switch was dangerous, but you'd need to get the cop to touch the light switch and to make sure you set it in the proper place for electrocution. In another, I had to notice that the wife went to get a drink at a certain time.
It only gets more complicated from there. You have to take stock of everybody's habits and what slight changes can have a huge effect, which requires a lot of trial and error. This would be fine, but remember, you're stuck in a time loop. That means you're playing out the same scenes over and over. At times, it feels like you're stuck in a never-ending loop, which puts a damper on the experience. Occasionally, the game will throw you a bone and speed up time for you if you're waiting for something, but otherwise, you have very few options for skipping dialogue or events that might become repetitive. If you click on the screen, you can fast forward through dialogue slightly, but not quickly enough to make a difference. When you've been playing through the same few minutes for hours, you're excited when something changes, but go back to feeling stuck when you have to return to the grind.
The game's mechanics are overwhelming, and that leads to another problem. Thanks to the small parameters of the game, the reveals often feel like letdowns. You begin the game knowing you have to find a watch and to convince your wife that you're stuck in a time loop. It doesn't take that much more to understand what has happened and why your wife is being accused of murder. So when you finally are able to talk to her about the murder, it feels underwhelming, especially if it took you hours to complete that task. There's a sense of relief that you accomplished something, but the story then doesn't have any impact. When a game focuses too much on mechanics, other elements suffer, and that's certainly the case here.
Twelve Minutes: Should you buy?
Twelve Minutes was one of the more anticipated indie releases of the summer, and for good reason. Annapurna Interactive has a sterling reputation for publishing unique titles like Donut County and Sayonara Wild Hearts, so being under its label feels like a stamp of approval. The game also has an incredible voice cast, and an intriguing premise. It all sounds like it'll lead to a great experience. It's also available on Xbox Game Pass, so Xbox players can get the chance to play it for free and figure out if it's one of their favorite Xbox games.
Unfortunately, while the game has some neat tricks up its sleeve, it almost has too many tricks. It gets caught up in its own logic and creates extremely dense and difficult-to-parse scenarios that sometimes rely on breaking down even the concept of time. Thanks to the time loop, the trial-and-error nature of it gets repetitive very fast. The game should take six to eight hours to complete, but it feels like an eternity. It feels as if you're constantly telling the game to hurry up.
The most diehard point-and-click fans might find something to love here since figuring out how to move forward does feel great, and the internal logic does line up in a way that is occasionally satisfying. However, because of the cyclical nature of the game, narrative reveals and puzzle solutions feel anticlimactic. After the hype, the great design, and the intricate setup, the whole thing feels anticlimactic.
Twelve Minutes releases on Aug. 19 for PC, Xbox One, and Xbox Series X|S.
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