Review | Twelve Minutes
What do you do when you come across a situation that’s entirely out of your control? Do you wish you could go back and change things for the better? Would altering the event actually improve the situation for the better? These are the questions that come up when playing Twelve Minutes, the new game from indie developer Luís António. The game provides a strong narrative with a high profile voice cast, but goes even deeper into the human psyche as we uncover a mystery with a mind-blowing twist. It’s a lot to take in, but those with patience and good observation skills may find a lot to appreciate here.
Twelve Minutes tells the story of a husband, played by James McAvoy, returning home to his wife, played by Daisy Ridley, during a special evening. The wife has a nice dessert planned and a big announcement for her husband, though trouble soon comes to their door in the form of a man claiming to be a police officer, played by Willem Dafoe. This “officer” invades their apartment, restraining the two while making bold claims. Upon discovering his motive, it’s not long until the event suddenly resets. Whenever 12 minutes pass, the husband finds himself at the entrance of his apartment with all the memories of the previous loops.
It’s a fantastic concept that takes advantage of a popular mainstay of gaming: the extra life. For decades, gamers have been playing games to a certain point, only to lose a life and begin from an earlier point. While they might not always see visual progress, there is progress in experience. They learn from their mistakes and can often overcome them by taking the previous experience into the next attempt. This is the core concept of Twelve Minutes, as the husband will learn new information with each loop. Maybe you’ll use your knowledge to predict the future, or maybe you’ll utilize a different direction. It all comes down to what you decide to do with each loop.
Each loop is a new chance to dig deeper into the mysteries of the plot, of which there are many. Even the smallest of details can alter events in many cases. An object might have additional uses, placement and timing can make a difference, and trial and error will become your best friend. It can start to grow repetitive at a certain point, but only if you aren’t finding the right path. Once you uncover the twist, you start to tread some dark territory that feels like a study of psychosis. My perception of the game from the beginning was very different than the beast that formed since completion. As crazy as things got, it was still an experience that expertly defied expectations and kept me engaged.
While the story is a major highlight, a lot of this wouldn’t be nearly successful without the amazing vocal performances. Admittedly, it probably didn’t have to be big name actors taking on these roles, but they truly knock it out of the park regardless. James McAvoy especially deserves recognition for his portrayal, as he displays a full range of emotions and puts us in the perspective of a man suffering from a mental breakdown. You can feel the tension rising within his voice as he discovers new information and gets closer to solving the mystery. He reaches a boiling point, only to cool down in an instant for the sake of progress.
Of course, Daisy Ridley also performs admirably as the wife of our protagonist. The wife harbors a deep secret, and she’s willing to do whatever it takes to keep it. She doesn’t want to jeopardize her livelihood, and Ridley’s performance perfectly captures the loving wife declining into hysteria. Willem Dafoe’s character is perhaps the biggest piece of the puzzle, being a key player in the events that unfold. Dafoe manages to be both intimidating and also sympathetic in his gravelly toned performance. In the end, I think he’s still the biggest part of the mystery that’ll keep me speculating long after the credits. Overall, each actor delivers and raises the pedigree of the events that much higher.
Even though the vocal performances carry so much weight, the music also contributes to capture these moments. This is partially due to the soundtrack composed by Neil Bones, giving an elegance to the presentation. The music can switch up from being fairly casual to something dramatic in an instant. A layer of apprehension and uncertainty fills the air as the music swells at just the right moments. Sound Designer Steve Green also plays a part in this, using audio as a secret weapon to impact the player. The audio cues become ingrained to memory as you repeat loop after loop, helping you time events. Even just the sound of a clock ticking is enough to recall flashbacks of the game.
With all of these elements coming in to create this experience, this is still a game with an interactive element. For the gameplay, Twelve Minutes plays like a point-and-click adventure game to a certain degree. The majority of the game uses a top-down perspective to relay the loops to the player. Players will move a cursor and click to direct our protagonist around the home or interact with various elements. Many objects can be collected and added to an inventory, allowing for later use. You’ll be able to open your inventory to drag and drop the items on something else, allowing you to interact in a multitude of ways.
While this typically works fine in most adventure games, I feel the game might improve with a more direct control method. Using an analog stick to move around would probably feel a bit more natural, and arguably more immersive. For now, the point-and-click method does still work, even if it feels a bit more archaic. Guiding the protagonist this way means having to automatically navigate the collision of the environment. Most of the time, this works out, but other times could lead to walking through characters. It can also lead to awkward animations and objects snapping in place.
When it comes to visuals, Twelve Minutes doesn’t exactly push the boundaries. It uses a somewhat minimalist approach, using simple models and effects. Many elements are hand-painted, especially the various wall paintings throughout the experience. The game runs on Unity, so it doesn’t get much more detailed in the visual department. Some elements don’t come across very well, like blood splatters or hair, but most other things work fine. Thankfully, the motion captured animation does add to the production quality. Being an indie game, we’re not going to hold the visuals to the highest quality standards. These are really just minor complaints.
In the end, my time with Twelve Minutes was time well spent. The puzzling narrative will have you constantly seeking answers while also raising even more questions. While the gameplay isn’t perfect, it works for this style of game with a visual design to match. The performances are a major highlight, and really push this game higher in the production department. I would honestly watch this if it were a movie. Overall, it’s a fantastic study of the human mind and how it adapts to patterns and acquiring information. It’ll take a few hours to see all the endings, and the final stretch will likely test your level of perception, but it’s all worth it. The darkness to discover within starts to come together all in good time.
Final Score: 8.5 out of 10