Disclaimer: This review is spoiler-free. I will not be talking about any puzzle solutions, nor will I divulge any plot related elements beyond what has already been seen or shown by the publisher ahead of release.
In Twelve Minutes, you play The Husband.
You return home from work to your loving wife, who has made some tasty looking desserts to celebrate an exciting moment in your lives. Suddenly, the romance dies as a man claiming to be a police officer bursts in and arrests your wife for a murder she claims she didn’t commit.
You’re trapped in a continuous time loop, and the moment you are beaten to death or the loop ends, you arrive right back at your front door as if nothing had ever happened.
I’ve been a long time fan of point and click adventure games, having grown up on classics like Monkey Island, Simon the Sorcerer and Discworld. Twelve Minutes was immediately intriguing to me due to its unique presentation and premise, but don’t be too easily fooled – this is a point and click game through and through. It’s also an extremely difficult game to write about in detail, because the plot is so absolutely integral to the overall experience. I won’t spoil any of the story details here to any degree, so fret not.
One of the reasons I play these sorts of games is often a combination of getting to experience an intriguing story and what I like to call the “Eureka moment” – that point in all of these types of games where you’ve successfully put all the smaller pieces together to solve the deeper mystery behind it all, and with Twelve Minutes, there is a lot to figure out. The game is set predominantly in your characters apartment, with only the main living space, a small bathroom, and your bedroom to navigate and explore.
Created and written by solo developer Luis Antonio, and published by Annapurna Interactive, this thriller has some serious talent behind it. He’s described the project as a “labour of love” and it’s evident from the deft writing that’s clearly been the biggest focus – indeed, Luis advised the story had been “kicking around” in his head for many years. It’s been brought to life by some fantastic voice actors, that rightly garnered a lot of mainstream attention – namely the talents of Daisy Ridley, James MacAvoy and Willem Defoe.
Defoe was undoubtedly the standout performance for me, with a decent layer of menace and grit as he made his case, as well as some surprisingly warm and endearing moments elsewhere. I would have been hard pressed to identify the latter two by voice alone if I didn’t know they were in it, but they do a great job with some very tricky material in the latter parts of the game.
There are items to pick up and inspect, unique points of interest to discover. But really, the game is more focused on the interaction between characters, and the interaction between us and time itself. As we are stuck in a never-ending loop; we get to play with both the lighter and darker sides of our nature, as we manipulate circumstances to our benefit, our amusement, or even perhaps to vent our frustrations. The Groundhog Day references are obvious, but the subject material is far darker.
The passage of time is ever present – the pause menu serves to give us a handy guide about just how much time we have left in a loop, in addition to the wonderfully constructed and layered soundscape in the environment both within and around the flat. The car horns and a passing siren outside; traffic in a city we’ll never see. The flash of lightning and the crash of thunder as a storm rolls in and the rain starts running down the windows. All of these cues, alongside an incredibly subtle soundtrack ensure we’re constantly aware of when we are in a particular loop.
Of course, no point-and-click adventure game is worth its salt without some deviously tricky puzzles and mysteries to solve, and Twelve Minutes will certainly require you to get your thinking cap on. Here is where the game will cause the most frustration to players that may be enticed by the all-star cast and unique look, but perhaps have never played a game of this type before – by its very nature, you’re required to repeat sections to try different things, and thus you will end up sitting through dialog over and over again. There is a fast-forward of sorts available, which takes the sting out of it, but if you get stuck, you may find frustration settling in.
Indeed, full disclosure – at one point, I knew and had already made the connection to a particular next step, but couldn’t quite figure out how to get the game or it’s characters to trigger an opportunity for me to make the same connection in the game itself. The developer provided a cryptic hint of sorts to help me out, and indeed, a “head-palm” moment from me when I realised I could just open the item myself – the game didn’t require me to force the scenario I had already preconceived. Very much a case of overthinking a problem.
In a note from Luis passed to me from the publisher when review code was sent out, he wrote:
“Twelve Minutes is a game about knowledge, how we accumulate it, and how we can apply it to change an outcome or solve a puzzle.
Whether it’s by listening, reacting, making mistakes, or failing, valuable knowledge will always be obtained that can help you progress later. Sometimes, doing nothing is as valid as doing something.”Luis Antonio
I leave those words with you, and I suggest you take them to heart before settling in to play. Those big roadblocks or moments of seemingly never-ending dead ends are the biggest problems players experiencing Twelve Minutes will likely endure, but the advice above will often see you right.
It’s an incredible achievement for a solo developer, and thanks to its inclusion in Xbox Game Pass, something that plenty of players should at least try – you may find the performances, mystery and intrigue of this small urban apartment are some you just have to experience. Perhaps you can break the loop and discover what’s happening to you – and why.
Played on Xbox Series X