Platforms: PC, Xbox
Release date: August 19, 2021
Developer: Luis Antonio
Publisher: Annapurna Interactive
Twelve Minutes is an incredibly intimate tale, taking place on a romantic evening entirely within the confines of a single apartment. Taking on the role of a husband, you come home to your wife having made dessert and teasing that she has some special news to share with you.
The two of you exchange kisses, take a seat on the couch, and have some casual conversation. All seems well, and your anticipation of her big reveal clearly takes center stage. You’re blissfully unaware that tragedy waits outside the front door.
Suddenly, a man claiming to be a police officer enters your home, ties you both up, and accuses your wife of murdering her own father. Struggle as you might to get free, you soon find that your death is swift and inevitable. Luckily for you, it’s also not the end, as you awaken at the exact moment you entered the home, free to relive the very same harrowing intrusion time and time again with the hopes of understanding why.
As you’ll see in our Twelve Minutes review, this short but deeply affecting game has a star-studded cast and an addictive gameplay mechanic that lends itself well to the mystery and intrigue that you’re left to uncover.
Twelve Minutes review: Gameplay
Twelve Minutes is a point-and-click adventure, and Xbox and PC versions share the same navigation method of using a mouse cursor to click where you’d like to go. As you attempt to escape a time loop, you can engage with your wife and the intruder with a variety of conversation topics, or you can move around your apartment to pick up and combine items for later use.
Memorizing the layout of the apartment and the location of notable items within it becomes your first goal, and it remains an important one throughout the entire experience. This claustrophobic collection of three rooms is all you’ll be granted access to for the majority of your six to eight hours of playtime, but the small explorable space is filled with a bevy of interactive components that ultimately function as an expansive toolkit for your sleuthing.
Each loop gives you a handful of minutes to interact with your wife, check out the home, and do your best to move the plot forward by deducing exactly what to say or do upon the break-in. The trepidation of hearing the sound of the intruder closing in on your apartment lends the game most of its tension, too, especially early on as you attempt to get your bearings and a firm grasp on your options. Once you hear the knock on the door, you know you have mere seconds to finalize whatever decisions you’ve made during that loop and cross your fingers that they pay off somehow.
No matter how many adjustments you make, though, they’re still likely to result in failure more often than not. That’s the point of the game after all, so if you’re not able to withstand the onslaught of trial and error gameplay – solutions are sometimes astonishingly cryptic – Twelve Minutes’ may not be your cup of tea. Fortunately, the short nature of each loop and an ability to use some handy time skipping here and there allow things to keep moving at a brisk enough pace that the inherent repetition only rarely feels exhausting.
Twelve Minutes review: Story and setting
Regardless of your take on Twelve Minutes’ looping mechanics, it’s hard not to be gripped by the thrilling narrative that creator Luis Antonio has so delicately crafted. Every voice line, every item, and every move you make has a purpose in your quest to understanding why you’re living the same night again and again.
As you begin to peel back the many layers of the mystery, you’re met with unsettling twists that test both your empathy and morals in ways you never see coming. And just when you think the previous heart-wrenching surprise was its last, there always seems to be another one lined up to punch you squarely in the gut.
Reaching those points requires a lot of hard work on your part, though, and will never be as simple as you’re thinking. When you happen to finally discover fresh bits and pieces of vital information during a loop, you might assume that your next course of action is to reach that exact same point and make some new choices, but that’s not usually the case.
Instead, progressing through to the next big revelation requires premeditation, so you’ll need to listen carefully to every line of dialogue and assess your surroundings with the intention of using it to your advantage next go-around. You’ll generally be aiming to get ahead of events before they even happen so that you can change the very timeline of the break-in altogether.
A good example of this takes place near the beginning of the game during the very first loop where you first learn of a specific item the intruder is demanding from your wife. As he continues to aggressively request the item, she denies she owns it at all, and you both end up dead. On the next loop, you can ask your wife about her father’s death and berate her about where she’s hidden the item, but she’ll never open up to you about it.
This loop will play out endlessly until you consider your wife’s first line of dialogue when you get home – “I didn’t hear you come in” – as a hint to immediately hide from her next loop. By doing this, you can let the incoming encounter play out without her having ever known you got home. As she discloses entirely new information to the intruder, you’ll now be privy to her exposed lies, providing you with ammunition you can pocket for the next loop.
Twelve Minutes review: Visuals and sound
There’s no unconventional art style on display here, and the sound of rain beating your windows makes up the majority of ambient noise. But I got the feeling that the game’s mundane aesthetic of dimly lit rooms and dull colors was an intentional creative choice meant to place a focus on the characters and their individual yet connected plights.
Award-winning actors fill the three roles – James McAvoy as the husband, Daisy Ridley as the wife, and Willem Dafoe as the intruder. As expected, these talented stars bring the characters to life wonderfully when dialogue is allowed to advance naturally, but the fundamental design of the game can periodically inhibit this. Since you’re constantly making choices in real-time, voice lines can end up cut and clipped together to facilitate an ever-evolving flow of events, making them come across as stiff and awkward at times.
Stiff, too, are the actions of the characters, which are clumsily animated with jerky, unnatural movements that would look more at home in The Sims. This somewhat undermines the believability of emotional scenes, especially when they uncomfortably clip through one another or wave their arms around erratically, but it’s thankfully not distracting enough to ruin the otherwise stellar storytelling.
Twelve Minutes review: Verdict
Twelve Minutes produces a substantial sense of satisfaction with each new epiphany that inches you closer to escaping the awful circumstances in which you find yourself. And though its voice work and animations aren’t always graceful, it’s not hard to see that this thriller’s primary objective is to spin a chilling yarn.
It succeeds admirably in doing exactly that by using its limited space, small cast, and compelling time loop mechanic to great effect, awarding patient players with a quietly unnerving and masterfully crafted mystery worth unraveling.