Twelve Minutes Review: Twelve Thrilling Minutes
Twelve Minutes is quite a ride. A small-scale puzzle box of a thriller, a remarkable amount happens to its three characters in only three rooms. Secrets long kept will be revealed, sometimes brutal violence occurs, and you’ll experience it over and over. Solo developer Luis Antonio takes a fascinating idea and twists it in unexpected directions. Not everything works, but I mostly enjoyed the ride.
The interactions of three characters determine your fate in Twelve Minutes. The game starts with a husband getting home to his loving wife. She’s made desert! It seems like it’s going to be a rather normal night. In the early minutes, you’re free to roam the apartment and start discovering the contents of these three rooms. You won’t have a lot of frame of reference to what anything means, but there are plenty of pieces you can work with right from the start. File what you find away for later.
Around ten minutes after you get home, there’s a knock on the door. A cop demands you let them in. Within moments of opening the door, he’s wrestling you and your wife to the ground, accusing her of killing her father eight years ago. There are a few ways this can go, but none of them are going to end well for you on this initial loop. That’s okay. As soon as things are over, you reappear in the entrance to your apartment, just having arrived home.
It takes you a moment to figure out what happened. At first, your character wants to assume this is some strange hallucination. As things repeat themselves, he accepts the truth, though. He’s caught in a time loop. Reliving those same minutes over and over, you’ll have to use what you learn to find a way to keep you and your wife alive and uncover the mystery of what this cop wants from you.
A Three Room Puzzle Box
Your apartment’s three rooms offer a wealth of possibilities. Items to find, combine, use, and manipulate. Each loop finds you trying to change things just enough to get more information, to change past events just a bit. In the early going, you aren’t necessarily even trying to find a good solution as much as you’re searching for information.
The interface when playing on Xbox doesn’t do Twelve Minutes any favors. The entire game is played with a virtual mouse. Instead of having direct control over your character, you click places in the apartment to move to them. You drag and drop items onto each other instead of having an option to select one and then another to combine them. I’m sure this all works fine with a mouse, but on a gamepad, it’s awkward. Not necessarily difficult, and adjusting cursor sensitivity can help. Still, it would have been nice to see the console version given a bit more attention.
Try And Try Again
Luis Antonio clearly thought of a lot of ways you can combine and mess with these items. To the point where there are a lot of options that either aren’t strictly needed, or are downright worthless. While this offers a lot of freedom, it can also make navigating the game’s very specific requirements much more difficult. In order to get the information you need, you’ll have to complete very specific tasks ahead of time.
In particular, I found myself stuck during one loop because I knew what the next step was but couldn’t figure out how to do it. It turns out I couldn’t do what was needed. I’d missed one step several loops ago, at the very end of a long sequence of exact required steps. Missed it only because I ran out of time at that. Having to go back and play out that exact same loop again wasn’t fun, it was simply annoying. When things are going well, the game’s puzzles can really click together and make you feel brilliant for finding a solution. A bit more freedom in how to progress certain scenarios would have helped, though.
Twelve Minutes does do a good job of helping you find quicker paths forward after certain points. New dialogue options allow you to skip what previously took three or four steps so you can get into what’s new quicker in future loops. I appreciated this. It often came with some narrative dissonance, however. Characters accept things too easily, with too little proof. I get that when the game is built around such a short period of time, you can’t go through long periods of explanation every time, but it doesn’t quite feel earned at times.
An All-Star Cast
Despite this, the game’s tension-packed story kept me engaged. I genuinely wanted to unravel why this husband was stuck in a time loop and what his wife’s backstory was. How did the cop fit in? The characters may not have a ton of depth, but the scenario they’re in is fascinating, and all three are elevated by excellent voice acting. Willem Dafoe is a standout as the cop. Switching on a dime between menacing and sympathetic, I can’t think of an actor better suited to the role.
James McAvoy and Daisy Ridley do a great job of portraying the game’s married couple in a wide variety of emotional states. They’re less recognizable due to the game’s American accents, however. It almost makes their casting a strange choice, as good as they are, simply because you’d never know they were playing these characters if you weren’t told. It’s hard not to think plenty of professional voice actors could have done as good a job for a fraction of the cost. Still, having big names attached has brought the game extra attention, so perhaps that alone made them worthwhile additions.
Worth A Warning
I do want to provide a warning that Twelve Minutes deals with some deeply disturbing themes. Scenes of shocking violence play out, and it delves into very dark territory not only in violence but also in human behavior. To provide much more detail would risk spoiling the game. While I was consistently interested in the story until the end, I’m still not sure what I think of the way things wrap up. I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about what the game ultimately means, but none of my theories seem to fit perfectly. Even some of the more existential ideas I’ve considered don’t quite add up, with a few details just not fitting every time. I appreciate a game that keeps me thinking after the credits roll, but there’s a nagging part of me saying that some of these elements don’t quite add up.
Despite not being a natural fit on console, Twelve Minutes provides a consistently engaging story that kept me tied to my controller until the very end. A strong voice cast and interesting central conceit make it worth checking out, especially if you can play it for no additional cost via Game Pass. I’m still not sure the story fully comes together, but it provided enough to think about that I know I won’t stop thinking about it anytime soon.
Final Verdict: 3.5/5
Available on: Xbox Series X(reviewed), Xbox Series S, Xbox One, PC; Publisher: Annapurna Interactive; Developer: Luis Antonio; Players: 1; Released: August 19th, 2021; ESRB: M for Mature; MSRP: $24.99
Full disclosure: This review is based on a retail copy of Twelve Minutes.