Twelve Minutes (2021)
Developer: Luis Antonio
Content Warning: This game contains gore, sexual themes, and domestic abuse. In order to review the game's story I will be touching on some of these topics.
Taking a look at my list of reviews, you can tell I'm a fan of Annapurna Interactive's library of indie games. I've had my eye on Twelve Minutes since I first saw the trailer, but after hearing some mixed reviews, I was iffy about picking it up. I felt stuck because I didn't want to be spoiled on what the game was about but I also was unsure if I'd enjoy playing it. Finally, though, I decided to use my Game Pass subscription to finally give it a shot. My partner and I decided to play this one together, since we were both really curious to check it out. Twelve Minutes is a point-and-click mystery where you keep reliving the same moment until you can figure out how to make things right. Twelve Minutes is a pretty limitless puzzle box where you can try just about anything, but it loses some of its impact constantly trying to "get" you with its thriller-like twists.
Despite the majority of Twelve Minutes taking place in one small apartment, you actually start out in the elevator to the floor of you apartment, staring at your own reflection. You can see that the protagonist is an adult male, wearing a tie, likely on his way home from work. He arrives and greets his wife, who says she has a surprise for him. From here on, you're able to walk around the apartment and interact with several things. You can actually pick up a lot of items - on my first run, I ended up with a knife, cake, mugs, phone, pills, and a couple other things in my inventory for no reason. You can choose to do whatever you want in that time, but no matter what, eventually there will be a knock on the door, followed by a voice claiming to be the police. You or your wife will open the door, and from there... things get ugly. The man ties both of you up and demands answers, to questions I won't say here to avoid spoilers as much as I can. If you try to struggle, he will hurt you - which then causes you to travel back in time to when you first got home, 12 minutes ago. You'll have the memories of what happened, but your wife doesn't. From here on, your goal is to figure out how to prevent this man from getting in to your home and hurting you and your wife. Whether that means trying to convince your wife of the time-traveling, hiding in the closet, or trying to preemptively call the police is up to you. A lot of the things you'll try won't work, so you have to get creative.
My partner described this game as having "film student energy", which is absolutely accurate. In other words, it puts a bit too much weight on throwing huge "gotcha" twists at you to shock you, at the expense of those twists actually feeling meaningful or relevant. However, I think I do disagree with some of the disdain people had towards this game. I don't think that it's too vile or that it went too far in trying to tell its story. I've seen enough telenovelas to be of the opinion that the "big twist" of this game isn't the most outlandish or off-limits things ever. I think the twist would've landed better if it had a better purpose or explanation for why it happened, but regardless I still think it was interesting enough and drastically changes the player's perspective of the story when it is revealed. I would say the biggest mistake this game made is trying so much to look like and market itself as a movie - sure, it's cool that William Dafoe voice acts in this game, but I think it's cooler that this game has so many different branches of what actions you can take to solve a puzzle. I think the emphasis on this type of casting even led to some of the confusion for us near the end, but I won't say more on that because spoilers.
The perspective and art direction in Twelve Minutes definitely make it feel like a different type of experience. You almost never get a good view of anyone's face because you're viewing the room from above. It's pretty simple but realistic enough to make you feel immersed. Sound is much more important in this game - peoples' voices, a knock on the door, a suspenseful sound. You have to be on guard for little sounds that indicate what could happen next. Even though a lot of the game feels fairly quiet, if you listen to the soundtrack on its own it is pretty damn impressive and reminds me of a horror movie soundtrack.
The best part of Twelve Minutes was definitely how free form of a puzzle it was. I'm actually really glad I played it with my partner, because this was definitely a case of "two heads are better than one" situation. There was often times when we'd feel stuck but one of us would decide to try something random, and while that was happening the other one would have a different great idea to try next. There is a decent bit of repetition in the game, which I usually don't like very much, but it was really easy to skip dialogue and even skip time to get back to where you needed to be. It feels really satisfying to successfully time a series of actions right to make a completely different path play out. However, not only does Twelve Minutes revolve around a violent incident, but the things you can do in the game can also get pretty twisted. The game really allows you to try just about anything, but that can mean some of the paths you take could be really hard to stomach. At the same time, you can also choose to do dumb things that end up giving you some pretty funny dialogue, and my partner and I enjoyed seeing those play out. Regardless, you'll always restart the loop and try again. Twelve Minutes is so unusual in its gameplay loop that even at the end of the game, you're not sure if you're done. I wish it would've been clearer about this, as we spent some extra time searching for if there was more to do not, confused about what we saw. You actually can play again and get different endings, though, so if you want to see all of those you'll want to start the game again and play in a different way.
Twelve Minutes did a pretty excellent job of trapping you in a "escape room" where every little action can change the outcome of the story. The story itself? A little off-the-rails and pretty twisted, with some pretty good voice acting. I think it would've been more impactful to me if the ending made a little more sense. You don't get to know the characters' motivations as well as I'd hoped, despite the bombshells revealed about them. I'd recommend this game to anyone who likes puzzles and thriller movies, but I would definitely mention the same content warnings I included at the beginning of this review. For some, the subject matter could be too difficult to play through. For my partner and I, this was a wild, unpredictable ride and a pretty fun experience to share. We actually got so hooked on solving it that we knocked it out all in one night.
Twelve Minutes is available on PC, Switch, PS4, PS5, Xbox One, and Xbox Series X|S
Played on: PC
Playtime: 5.5 hrs