I love a good “time loop” story. It’s a clever plot contrivance that has been the basis of countless movies and episodes of TV with Bill Murray’s Groundhog Day being the quintessential example of how to do it well; although I am still a fan of the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode, Cause and Effect where the Enterprise was caught in a time loop that reset after each commercial break. Interestingly enough, each of those Trek loops were about 10-12 minutes long; the same amount of time you’ll get in Luis Antonio’s latest adventure-suspense-thriller, Twelve Minutes.
I was immediately intrigued with this game when it was first announced at E3 back in 2019, not only because of the time loop storytelling device but also the unique prospect of playing a game with only three characters in a three-room studio apartment. Just how much gameplay can you milk from such limited resources? Roughly 8-12 hours based on my personal game time and research of others’ experiences, and that is likely to get you only one or two of the multiple endings, which may not be the “true” ending, but by then your brain is mush and “truth” is merely a concept.
Without giving away any spoilers you play as the husband (James McAvoy) who comes home to his sparsely furnished studio apartment where his wife (Daisy Ridley) has big news and a tasty desert waiting for him. Only a few minutes into their celebration a police officer (Willem Dafoe) starts banging on the door saying he has a warrant for your wife for murder. Of course things aren’t as they seem (the understatement of the century) and your life keeps resetting after twelve minutes (or sooner if you die, get knocked out, go to sleep, or leave the apartment). It’s up to you to solve the mystery of the pocket watch, a dead father, and a diabolical family legacy that will have you on the edge of your seat until the jaw dropping twist. Can you repair time and escape the loop?
Personally, I hate to do the same thing more than once so the very notion of this game should have sounded all sorts of alarms yet I was intrigued for several hours of play until I just got burned out with the repetition. With such limited characters, locations, and inventory items Twelve Minutes manufactures content by spoon-feeding you morsels of the story then resetting the loop so you can use that new nugget of knowledge to hopefully trigger the next…and so on and so on. There are virtually no clues or hints, leaving you to stumble onto every realization through trial and error. Actions that are wildly inappropriate (like drugging your wife) are required for one loop while unnecessary in future loops. With each new loop your knowledge from past loops can be used with new shortcut responses in the game’s limited conversation trees, greatly speeding up the time required to get your wife onboard with the current situation, although by the end it’s almost comical the way you info-dump on your wife and she just collapses on the sofa; her mind obviously blown.
One interesting aspect of the game is the way you manage time. Early on you only have a few minutes before the cop arrives, so you have to plan and execute these lengthy series of events and actions before he starts knocking just so you can get enough new knowledge to take into the next loop. As mentioned, this requires tremendous amounts of trial and error…so much error. And it can take numerous loops before you stumble on that one nugget of knowledge that opens the floodgates of storytelling in the next loop, especially near the end.
The look and presentation of the game is definitely unique with a top-down view of the action and interaction of characters and objects. There are a few cool camera changes like hiding in a closet and peeking through the slats or kneeling down to search air vents or rummage through a dresser drawer. There is some great texture work and realistic lighting and shadows with lights that can be switched off and on and flashes of lightning to add to the ambience. The audio presentation is also well done with expert voice acting from all the big-name talent they hired for this project. The script is surprisingly well done considering how much it had to be broken up and delivered one reveal at a time yet still remain compelling. The sound effects are minimal but effective like the ding of the elevator that signals the arrival of the cop, and the soundtrack sets the perfect mood when needed then fades to silence for the more dramatic conversations.
Now comes the question of should you play Twelve Minutes, and services like Game Pass make this a particularly interesting dilemma. If you subscribe to Game Pass you can play this game on Xbox or PC for “free”. If not you have the unsavory option of paying $25 for a game that can take you anywhere from 4-10 hours to beat based on your powers of deduction and quite frankly, LUCK. If Steam is your only option I might recommend waiting for a sale or perhaps doing a free Game Pass trial and playing that version. As much as I love what Luis Antonio was trying to do here, Twelve Minutes is not a $25 experience…in my opinion; especially when the game will most likely leave you feeling icky and unsatisfied with the intended ending.