Review: 12 Minutes
By: Stephen Machuga (Shanghai Six)
Developer: Luis Antonio
Available on: PC, Xbox One, Xbox Series X|S
Reviewed on: PC
I have been waiting for 12 Minutes since it was announced at E3 2015. But did it deliver? Tough to say.
The storyline? Fairly simple: you and your wife are sharing a romantic evening in your tiny apartment together when it is interrupted by your door being kicked in by a police officer. The two of you are zip-tied and questioned, and things don’t get better for the lovebirds after that point. The whole series of events takes place in the span of about ten minutes, at which point it all starts over. You, the husband, have found himself in a good ol’ fashion science fiction time loop! It becomes your job to figure out the series of events that will break you out of the loop and set things right.
The whole of 12 Minutes takes place in the three-ish rooms of the couple’s apartment: the living room, the bedroom, and the bathroom, where you point-and-click adventure your way, investigating your surroundings and uncovering more and more of the crazy mystery around you with each time loop that happens.
The gameplay for 12 Minutes borrows liberally from David Cage games; hell, the wife even comments on the rain outside, saying, “That sure is some Heavy Rain!” (ah, hah hah). Dark, mature, point-and-click adventure games where dialogue plays a big role in determining the outcome, and 12 Minutes is no different. Your character takes quite the journey to discovering what is going on with his family in his little apartment world and this force of nature that comes into their lives.
12 Minutes sports a cast of triple-A actors lending their voices to the game but feels like it suffers from being so top-heavy in the talent department. James McAvoy plays the husband (of M. Night Shyamalan’s Split and Glass,) the wife is played by Star Wars’ Daisy Ridley, while the cop is played by none other than Willem Dafoe. The problem is that you can tell they each got one or two shots at a line, and then that’s all the studio had the cash for. Across multiple time loops, your dialogue and series of events can change wildly, but many of the lines of dialogue don’t really reflect it. For example (and it’s a fake example because the story is so critical to the game, I don’t want to spoil anything): the husband takes the wife’s purse and throws it out the window, then asks her what she would do like for dinner. Having watched her purse get launched out the window, the wife doesn’t react at all, instead telling the husband that she’s been thinking of getting tacos later tonight. Lines are cut and pasted into dialogue in abrupt and jarring ways at different levels of volume and quality, which is head-scratching for the amount of money they likely had to lay out for this level of talent. It’s disruptive and can take you out of the moment, and for a game where the whole point is solving a mystery by asking questions after changing the environment, those differences should be pretty dramatic.
Also, following the first hour of seeing a few different ways of changing the series of events, the game can wear on you a bit with the repetition. There’s not a lot going on as far as set changes in your tiny apartment, so you’re interacting with the same dozen items in various ways over the course of a 10-minute block of time. Like any good point-and-click adventure, you’re literally trying to combine everything with everything out of sheer desperation when you get stuck (combine cat with a baseball glove, combine lightstick with nuclear waste, etc.) because sometimes, you never know what you are going to get.
While there is a way to fast-forward through certain points of dialogue (blessedly), there are definitely points of 12 Minutes where you are forced to watch over and over again. I’m pretty sure I could recite some of Willem Dafoe’s lines by heart after having to hear them all day today ad nauseam. By the end of the second hour, I had gotten myself pretty stuck as to what to do, and 12 Minutes has a very specific path you need to go down to progress the story. You end up restarting the day, then spend literally five minutes doing everything all over again to pick a single different dialogue choice, and then to have to do it again, and again... and again. The game punishes you with its trial and error by forcing you to redo the loop again.
I did have to look up a hint about the halfway point through 12 Minutes for something I would never have thought to do myself, using game logic that would have revealed itself more easily... if the time loop didn’t keep punishing me with each repeat. You don’t have a lot of wiggle room to “experiment” for fear of getting sent back to the beginning and wasting all the progress you’ve made in a loop, but at the same time, the game is all about trying different things to see what happens.
For as much as it sounds like I’m dumping on 12 Minutes, fortunately, all the pain left my body as the end game revealed itself. The game has a pretty stunning final sequence that, when you see it all combined together, made the journey worthwhile. I’m fairly certain most people will be through the story of 12 Minutes in three or so hours. I’m not a big fan of equating how much a game costs with the number of hours of enjoyment you get out of it, but 12 Minutes is extremely short, and as it is a mystery game, once you solve it, you’re not going to be able to reset that Rubik’s Cube and play it again.
Overall, I personally enjoyed 12 Minutes, but I’m also weird like that. I love little indie titles that at least try to do something different and innovative out there versus triple-A titles like Madden that just update their playable roster year after year and force you to buy the latest iteration. This will definitely not be for everyone, especially for kiddies looking to score “sick headshots.”