Picture this: You are trapped in a perpetual 12-minute loop where you are forced to watch your own grisly end, again and again unless you stumble upon the right chain of actions to finally set yourself free. This is the intriguing nightmarish hook of Twelve Minutes, an interactive thriller that we have been excitedly anticipating for more than half a decade.
Within Twelve Minutes you play as a nameless character who has just returned home to his apartment after a seemingly average day at work. After enjoying a romantic evening at home with the wife, things soon spiral into chaos as a man claiming to be a police officer forces his way into your home and places you in handcuffs. After making the seemingly preposterous accusation that your wife has murdered her father he then jumps on top of you and chokes you to death. This is the one scene that you are forced to repeat again and again unless you change up your actions throughout the evening and figure out how to break the loop.
The gameplay here has a classic point-and-click style and you're really encouraged to think outside of the box and exhaust all possibilities. The action takes place purely from a top-down perspective and using items within your inventory is as simplistic as clicking on them and dragging them to the object or person you want to use them on. You are limited to your tiny apartment (if you leave the loop restarts) and you must experiment on each twelve-minute loop using different obtainable items and a series of dialogue options.
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After failing numerous times to charge at the intruder with the knife I found on the kitchen counter I was forced to mix up my approach. I decided to take the pills I found in the bathroom and I put them in my wife's drink to leave her unconscious when the intruder arrived. This enabled me to question him directly (he usually chokes you to death without much hesitation) so that I could learn more about his identity and motive. Still, as predicted, the run ended with me gasping for breath and waking up in a cold sweat, but I had learned a few vital clues that could lead me ever closer to the truth. This is what each subsequent run in Twelve Minutes feels like, success may not be possible, but you are forever inching closer.
I don't want to give too much away, but I do have to say that the narrative constantly kept me in a state of shock with one massive bombshell followed by another. Just when I thought I was starting to wrap my head around the unfolding mystery, the game would pull the curtain on another revelation and I was left scratching my head all over again. Another thing that it does well is make you empathise with the main protagonist, as you are going on a journey with him continuously following the same loop and not feeling closer to the truth. Each time he punches the wall or curses at the wind you feel it like a gut punch because you are experiencing it right at the same time as him.
The all-star cast here comprising of Daisy Ridley (your wife), James McAvoy (the protagonist), and Willem Dafoe (the intruder) deliver superb performances throughout and it was amazing how much emotion they were able to convey through their voice acting considering that character's faces and expressions aren't shown at all. It's testament too to how well the game is written that the evolving narrative manages to remain so engaging throughout with there only being three central characters you'll speak to again and again.
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Although I found it additive to mull over how I should vary my next approach, I have to admit that the trial and error nature here will not be for everybody. Whilst you can speed up repeated dialogue and can fast forward time by standing in the closet, you are still just witnessing the same four walls and core set of events unfolding again and again. There is no hand-holding here and you won't receive any prompts or hints if you find yourself hitting a brick wall. Instead your only option is to sit down and really examine the unfolding series of events and it can get frustrating when the answer doesn't appear immediately obvious. Staring at a watch to time travel, for example, was not something I first thought of.
Twelve Minutes is one of the most unashamedly dark and gripping narrative-driven games that I have played in years. Its narrative is packed with plenty of twists and turns and its talented all-star cast help to make its characters feel human and believable. I also found its minimalist design impressive, as it pushed me to exhaust all possible options and meticulously think over every situation. That said, I don't think its trial and error nature will charm everybody and some of its puzzles can feel a little too cryptic and obscure.
8 / 10
Its story is filled with many dark twists and turns, the voice acting here is superb, its gameplay pushes you to painstakingly think about each scenario.
It can be a little too cryptic, the trial and error nature will be frustrating for some.