It's rare for a game's concept to hook me within a few seconds, but Twelve Minutes managed to do that way back in 2015. Before it gained an all-star cast including Daisy Ridley, James McAvoy and Willem Dafoe, it was an intriguing indie point-and-click adventure with a Groundhog's Day-esque time loop and a unique, top-down perspective. Its interactive narrative, combined with a wealth of cinematic influences, made it seem as if developer Luis Antonio was crafting something meant just for me.
That's pretty much how I felt at the beginning of the game. You play as a man who comes home to a small apartment. Your wife has some special news, which you celebrate over a romantic dinner. All of a sudden, a cop starts pounding on the door and accuses her of murder. Things go downhill fast, and in an instant you're right back to the beginning of the night. Your mission: Figure out what the hell is happening.
Sounds like a solid thriller, right? But after spending six hours with the game, I was furious. What started out as a fun mystery devolved into a repetitive slog. I was forced to abuse my seemingly lovely wife. Sometimes I had to watch her be repeatedly tortured by that sadistic cop. And I became a murderer myself, several times over. Making things even worse, my reward for that hellish journey was an array of twists so convoluted, so mind-numbingly dumb, I was angry about it for days. Say what you will about the works of M. Night Shyamalan, but at least his twists feel original. (And yes, I know those twists occur less often than you may think.)
I won't spoil where Twelve Minutes ultimately goes. And, to be honest, I'm hesitant to even point out that a story has twists at all. But for a mystery like this, I figure that's to be expected. All of this time looping detective work just has to lead to something truly dramatic! And it's clear that Luis Antonio genuinely wants to blow your mind. It's just a shame almost everything falls flat at the end.
That's not to say Twelve Minutes isn't worth playing. The game's early hours set up a fascinating mystery box. Your small apartment has a cramped kitchen and living space, a bathroom, a bathroom and a closet. That's it. Everything you need to complete the game is there (or gets there later). Some of those puzzle pieces feel organic, like the mugs that you can fill with water, or the large knife tempting you in the kitchen. Some of them, like the light switch that can electrocute people on cue, are hilariously convenient.
I realized Twelve Minutes was doing something special early on when it managed to work its way into my subconscious. I thought of new things to try during long walks and after sleeping on a particularly annoying problem. That's a sign that, for a while at least, I was genuinely invested in the story. It helps that Twelve Minutes also has some solid voice work, which goes a long way toward connecting you to the characters. You don't get a full look at anyone's face (even if you try to scope out the cop through your front door's peephole), so it's nice to have some human performances grounding the story. If you’ve got Xbox Game Pass, it’s worth checking out the game just to experience its first few hours.
After the novelty wears off, though, the game quickly takes a turn for the worse. Eventually, you'll have to complete a long series of tasks over and over until you figure out your next step. And sometimes that can mean doing the same five tasks dozens of times. Twelve Minutes gives you a few easy ways to speed things up, like a single dialog option that can prove you're actually going through a time loop and that she's genuinely in danger. But a few more narrative shortcuts would make the game's rough last act more tolerable.
One major moment gives you only a few seconds to show one character a specific item. It's easy to miss that's something you can even do. And even when I knew what I had to do, after looking up a few guides, I still failed to trigger the right interaction several times. At that point, the game began to feel less like a puzzle I needed to solve and more like a Saw trap that I needed to escape from.
I suppose these issues could be overlooked if Twelve Minutes had a better script, but even in that respect it fails. It's stronger toward the beginning, but like a J.J. Abrams story, it has no clear idea where to go at the end. Characters start to act in completely different ways, which is hard to swallow after seeing them in one light for several hours. A sympathetic turn for Dafoe's cop feels particularly out of place, after seeing multiple loops where he kills you and your wife, and that’s even after getting the MacGuffin he's looking for. You don't need to have an ACAB tattoo to call him a monster.
I wouldn't write off Twelve Minutes as a bad game, but based on where the story goes, it’s ultimately disappointing. Luis Antonio and his team spent over seven years working on the game, and it's a shame to see my enthusiasm for it fall apart in six hours.