In Twelve Minute you play as a nameless man arriving at his small apartment for a surprise romantic evening with his wife. The evening however, is doomed to end with a policeman bursting into your home and accusing your wife of murder.
What’s worse is that if you try to protest the situation, the cop will knock you out, causing you to reappear at your front door, reliving the evening over and over again until you figure out what’s going on.
Like a lot of people, Twelve Minutes initially had me intrigued due to its all-star cast which includes James McAvoy, Willem Dafoe and Daisy Ridley, but also with the refreshingly small scale of its premise. It made me look forward to seeing if the game could make the most out of its fascinating and modest scale of four rooms and three characters.
The gameplay is what you’ve come to expect from the point and click adventure genre but from a top-down perspective. As you experience each cycle you will need to take notes on the unremarkable details of the evening, search your apartment for clues and work out how each item you pick up can be used in unexpected ways.
Surprisingly, you will spend most of your time here not with physical actions but verbals ones as you use information you discover in prior loops to unlock new explorable conversation trees, allowing you to slowly unravel a series of revelations concerning everyone’s motives and connections.
The puzzles while mostly good have a few solutions that are questionable in logic. For example, one of the most critical solutions that could have easily been resolved by simply asking someone a favor, snowballs into a contrived puzzle. It feels as if they’ve prioritized not being “obvious” over leading the players to certain conclusions more naturally.
While I can’t fault these mechanics as they work well enough, they still feel surprisingly basic and restrictive considering the size of the environment. This aspect wouldn’t have worn thin as fast if you didn’t loop over and over again. This is an intended part of the experience no doubt, but taking into account its short length and the absence of an ability to skip through dialogues more reliably, it drags the entire experience down.
The narrative of Twelve Minutes is both its most interesting and frustrating element, something that is very difficult to talk about without spoiling. It starts off well enough as you slowly use the loops to gather information which builds up a lot of intrigue in the first half, something that kept me hooked through each tiny development.
The third act is where my attention was lost unfortunately, due to an underwhelming narrative pay-off. While it did allow the story to be recontextualized in a different light, it regrettably undermined a lot of the work the story did up to that point. It was especially disappointing considering that the story was its main selling point, and was starting off so well.
The cast was what held the game together in my opinion, as despite never seeing their faces, James McAvoy and Daisy Ridley’s performance as the husband and wife added a lot to otherwise generic characters. Not to mention, Willem Dafoe’s effortlessly terrifying cop was a dominating presence throughout the entire experience.
The visuals of the game are impressive as every inch of the apartment has been finely polished with a minimalistic art style that evokes a sense of mundanity and realism, juxtaposing with the intense theme of the game to deliver a hard-hitting experience. The lighting plays an important part and mixes well with the time-loop element to build an almost Hitchcockian neo-noir atmosphere.
Lastly, both the original score and sound design are also worth mentioning due to how well they fit within the context of the game and its varying situations.
Overall Twelve Minutes is a memorable experiment that struggles to live up to its full potential due to unsatisfying narrative and frustrating puzzle solutions outweighing the beautiful visuals, sombre music, and vocal performances.