12 Minutes is an engrossing and intriguing point-and-click puzzle game based around a seemingly never-ending time loop and a strange man with a penchant for murder.
Starting off with a simple tutorial that sees you find your way into your apartment, you’re presented with an interactive scene of a young couple spending the evening together. Things rapidly take a turn for the worse when there’s a knock at the door from someone claiming to be a police officer. All you know from the opening is that the woman (your wife) is being accused of a historical killing and the assailant really wants to get his hands on a watch. Once the first loop has played out you must start to unpick what’s happening while trying to convince others to listen to your plight. You may have seen trailers showing clips of how things can play out, but each time the loop restarts the player has to make choices that impact how the narrative develops and discover ways of bringing new options into play.
It’s difficult to really talk about 12 Minutes in too much detail because the very nature of the game revolves around gradual discovery of information. It would be incredibly easy to spoil numerous parts of the narrative by explaining exactly what to do, but that would take the majority of the fun out of it for you. All I’ll say is this: if you play close attention to what people are saying you’ll find that things will all start to make sense.
One of the first things that strikes you about the game is its style of presentation. The environment is seemingly quite basic (a one-bedroom apartment consisting of three rooms and a closet) but it’s realized in a such a way that it feels quite ‘real’. Small details like the rain streaking down the window, cars passing by outside and flashes of lightning casting vast shadows across the room all add to the immersive nature and the overall effect is really engrossing. Considering the fact that you will spend hours stuck in the same small space without it getting old is a testament to the quality of the game’s design and art style. On top of this, the incredible sound design takes full advantage of surround sound and dynamic audio to make the scene feel real. Incidental details build a much more vivid scene and after a while you get used to different audio cues that will allow you to make decisions at the right time.
The control system feels a little clunky to begin with (on consoles, at least, as the game feels better suited to a mouse and keyboard setup) but it quickly becomes simple to use. Rather than controlling the character directly, players move a dot around the scene and then click on a point to make the character move (a bit like The Sims) or hover over an object to interact with it. Some things can be switched on or off, some things can be collected and used in conjunction with other items. As an example, if you pick up a mug and then choose it from your inventory by dragging it onto the sink your character will walk to the sink and fill the cup with water. Selecting the full cup from your inventory will result in you drinking the water. You get the idea, but this can be combined in different ways to get different results.
Your main objective initially is to speak to your wife in the hope of warning her against the arrival of the mysterious man (who comes after 5 minutes of each loop). As you play through subsequent loops you will find new conversation options begin to appear, allowing you to unpick what’s going on as you learn from each attempt. Even though you will often find yourself repeating steps and hearing the same response, especially in the earlier stages, the quality of the acting is of such a high standard that things don’t get irritating and you have to pay close attention as some of the narrative branches will alter slightly as new clues are brought to light. Because the game is set to play out a set course of actions unless you intervene, there’s ample opportunity to try a mixture of approaches just to see how things will play out. Some of this is trial and error, but you quickly come to understand how you can trigger particular events by following a sequence or timing an interaction to cut over a pre-set part of the narrative. As you move further through the story arc you gain an increasing level of control that puts you in position to shape the relationship (or potentially end it), find out more about something specific or even just do things to see how your wife reacts. On more than one occasion I accidentally did something which annoyed her and this had the knock-on effect of removing the usual options as she didn’t want to talk to me any further, which was hilarious.
Once you get used to how it all works it’s a really intuitive title and my wife and I were completely hooked by 12 Minutes. We played it over the course of a week or so, spending a few hours a night on it, and we managed to ‘complete’ it without too much trouble, but we kept coming back to it to find the various different endings and achievements. I really enjoyed unravelling the plot and even when I knew how it all played out I still found it intriguing to play through a few more times. You notice things on your second playthrough that don’t stand out first time and the intelligent design really comes to the forefront once you have a better level of knowledge of what is actually going on (although it’s still a bit ambiguous as to what is the ‘real’ ending).
Overall, I can’t recommend this game enough. It’s fresh and interesting and manages to deliver a nice mixture of warmth, thrills and puzzles that should keep you going for at least a couple of playthroughs. I have to admit that it’s left a bit of a hole in my life and sometimes I boot it up just to feel the comfort of the ever-predictable loop and see if I can make anything new happen…but maybe that just says more about my state of mind than it should.
Reviewed on Xbox Series S (Game Pass)