12 Minutes is the latest game published by Annapurna Interactive. It’s a strange narrative adventure involving the player repeating the same time frame in a Groundhog Day-style loop.
Players start by coming home late from work when their wife has cooked dessert for them. After a nice average evening at home, a cop knocks at the door, and when you or your wife open it, the cop will quickly arrest you and your wife, and ends up striking or choking the player to death. And the game restarts.
This is an abrupt and disturbing scene, but it’s exactly what’s in store for the player in 10 minutes increments, each time loop usually ends with a horrific end, and the player is left to wonder how they can fix their predicament.
12 Minutes starts with a compelling and recognizable idea. Groundhog Day as a movie set up the idea of a near-infinite time loop but many forms of media have toyed with it, and the recently released Outer Wilds took up the same idea in a marvelous game and was also published by Annapurna Interactive. But with 12 Minutes, the window is so short and the limited interactivity created more of a puzzle box in a constrictive location rather than a large exploration of the world that the players find themselves in.
That’s also intentional. 12 Minutes has a solid story and a reason for most of the events of the game. The explanation though is limited to the late scenes of the game, and even those are used to further confuse the player.
But to start at the beginning, perhaps it’s best to talk about how the game introduces itself. It begins after a quick tutorial explaining the control scheme and the game shows its cast. James McAvoy, Daisy Ridley, and William Dafoe offer their voices for 12 Minutes, and while this is a high-caliber list of actors, the results here puzzled me. McAvoy and Ridley are both rather famous but I don’t know if I’d call them recognizable voices. William Dafoe has a more noticeable voice, but playing 12 Minutes left me lacking a reason for such high-profile Hollywood talents to be involved. Very little of the story has an emotional depth or range that the studio would need major actors, and worse, none of these actors are known for their voice acting talent.
That’s not to say they shouldn’t be in the piece, but 12 Minutes doesn’t use them in a way that feels that a major celebrity needed to be cast in each role. It’s just simple stunt casting but done for a game that does nothing with the talent besides plastering their name on the screen hoping to add to their prestige.
After the title sequence scrolls by players are introduced to the game, and ultimately the puzzle. Not only do players need to ‘survive’ but they need to stop the time loop in some fashion and 12 Minutes is a bit stingy with the actual story.
The first major clues to the story lie in the cop asking your wife about a pocket watch, and a question will need to be made about how to get that information. In future time loops, players can question the wife about the cop, the watch, and even attempt to get her to believe them about the time loop that is going on. Players will have limited success with each of these pieces, but through trial and error, mostly a lot of errors, players will learn how to advance the story.
One issue with 12 Minutes is that several actual solutions to the story require a bit of obtuse problem-solving. Without spoiling any of the major puzzles, as that’s all that 12 Minutes has, players are expected to gain information that they can use on future loops, however, the path to that information will stymie some players, and honestly led me down darker paths than they should have.
12 Minutes gives the player a lot more autonomy than I expected, even going to some rather dark possibilities, but beyond that, players are rather limited. If players expect to escape the apartment or climb out a window, that’s not programmed in. If players want to heavily barricade the door with the couch, that’s just not available, and if players want to do anything other than what the game is going to expect players to do, that’s too bad. This is a fact in all gaming, but it’s more apparent when players will outthink 12 Minutes.
Just appearing not to be home seems like a good option, but that’s not even considered a possibility. Hiding in a room other than the living room won’t happen. Having two phones and trying to figure out what the second phone’s number is to ensure you can communicate with it eludes the main character. Ultimately players have to guess what the developer was thinking, and this is where 12 Minutes falls into the common traps that classic point and click adventure games tripped over often.
Make no mistake, with a strong story, and an interesting puzzle, 12 Minutes ultimately can be reduced to a simple Point and Click adventure game. One that has a short run time and problem space and an expectation that players will continue to make choices and hope they can solve this conundrum.
But guessing what the developer was thinking can often work, especially when developers leave solid clues and hints, it’s this part of the game where 12 Minutes struggles. While at the beginning 12 Minutes seems to assist the player, The last four or five major steps to the puzzle require some obtuse manipulation or just large guesses on the player’s part. Players will have to repeat most of the day to hopefully come up with something new, but these decisions are also coming at the worst moments.
12 Minutes story feels like it concludes after about 3 hours of play, but sure enough, there’s one last major twist that will send most players staggering, however at this point players will have to set up the ending which takes about five minutes each time. Five minutes of doing the same thing over and over, and hoping small minor changes might “fix” the ending, and solve the mystery, but not only is that wrong, but each attempt will also feel like a waste when players are unable to get anything more than a minor change in the scene.
Again players will be expected to think completely outside of the box, but the issue is that 12 Minutes has the player mostly attempting the same scene for approximately four to five hours. While some pieces change and parts of the scene are shortened to make moments feel fresh. Having to go through the same setup four to five times just to make a small change is rough. That repetition of an experience that was interesting becomes an utter slog by the end of the journey, and ultimately is the reason why I struggled with 12 Minutes.
Well, that’s one of the two big issues I have here. The other issue is that while 12 Minutes can tell a story with an interesting setup, the major twists, turns and tries to surprise people, but most of those surprises are so poorly written that they feel like the writer grasped for any idea to continue the story to pad the run time. For an example that’s not in the game, it might be a shock if a story had a wife tell her husband she was a man, but without any clues in place of this “twist”, it just feels like something created to shock the player, rather than an actual part of her background.
The fact is much of 12 Minutes’s surprises and shocks are delivered as such. No hints, no fanfare, just something that tries to disturb the player, and while it works, any examination into the idea doesn’t fit anything we’ve seen previously. While there’s one big step at the end that tries to fit the story together it again feels like a desperate grab by the writer to fix the plot and hand wave away any criticism.
At the end of the day, 12 Minutes is a novel and interesting concept, but it’s a concept that lingers too long, adding too much repetition, if the experience was maybe even an hour shorter, it would have felt better. It also is a story that tries to impress the player, through how clever it can be, without showing any artistry in its writing.
But 12 Minutes’ biggest sin is just forcing the player to have to struggle against puzzles that feel designed to frustrate players. Whether players ultimately play through the entire game without hints or end up looking up the solution to a puzzle because they feel stuck, the result isn’t a game that can be heralded.
I am giving 12 Minutes an arbitrary
If the concept sounds interesting, and the idea of time loops intrigues you, I recommend playing Outer Wilds, it’s a fantastic game that does everything right, but unless you have Xbox Game Pass, I would skip 12 Minutes as the result of the game isn’t something worth the price of admission or the time spent playing through it.
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