Twelve Minutes review: The gift of time

...uncover a gripping story in Twelve Minutes, a game about working through a time loop to...

5

Twelve Minutes is a mystery game that centers on one fateful evening as a husband is forced to relive the same handful of minutes until he figures out what’s going on. Though gameplay in point-and-click adventure games is limited, Twelve Minutes does a masterful job of making each run at the evening feel fresh, though some problems do arise with the trial-and-error aspect.

Let’s do the Time Warp

twelve minutes review

Published by Annapurna Interactive, Twelve Minutes is a time loop narrative experience written by Luis Antonio and Steven Lerner. Though it has a small team of developers, the cast is full of big names that bring the entire experience to life. James McAvoy voices the husband, Daisy Ridley the wife, and Willem Dafoe the game’s main antagonist, the cop.

After arriving home from work, the husband and wife enjoy a special moment over a meal, before a cop comes in. With the husband and wife zip tied and on the ground, the cop starts demanding information and things that make no sense early on. As the husband, I stood up in hopes of reasoning with the cop, only for him to deck me. I then woke up standing at the front door again, transported back to the beginning of the evening to try again.

The story continues like this in small bites, as the player desperately tries to uncover new details with each subsequent run. The resets to the beginning of the night are triggered by only a couple of things: dying, getting knocked out, or trying to leave the apartment. These events all act as the period at the end of a sentence, stopping short the discovery, and activating the time slip back to the start.

A sail through timestreams

The beauty of Twelve Minutes comes in the form of how information is gathered and utilized. There are “timestreams” where certain events will take place. For example, you might choose to have dessert with your wife and try different dialogue options or you might take the knife by the sink and do something terrible. Each of these timestreams hold critical information.

The player is encouraged to wade down these rivers of time, collecting information as they might do pebbles, before resetting and wading down another stream to see where the pebbles might fit. There’s a pure sense of discovery as you realize how a piece of information can be used in another attempt. 

Other than the story, there’s a lot of joy to be found in the way the world is built. There are several interactive points around the apartment and a handful of items to experiment with to try and create unique situations. It’s gratifying to set up a sort of Rube Goldberg machine and watch your mastermind plan play out. I even reached a point of desperation where I tried to flush everything in the apartment down the toilet in a bid to find a new timestream to explore.

The whole puzzle element of Twelve Minutes is unique and refreshing, especially the nature of gathering intelligence and utilizing it elsewhere. It’s sort of like a narrative version of Resident Evil’s unique keys or Doom’s iconic colored Key Cards. However, there is a problem indicative to this design: the tedium of backtracking.

Cause

With new information seized, you now need to figure out where this information is best used. Instead of there being a nice red security door on the map to go toward, the player needs to rely on their own smarts to work out where the information slots in. It can be easy to misread a situation and try to get the information to fit in one timestream when in actuality it needed to be broached in another.

At the start of the game, there is a nice logical flow to acquiring information and using it. You’ve got all these tools and potential paths ahead of you and there's a constant wealth of information flowing in. There’s always another path you want to try. However, by the third act, timestreams are drying up and you’re desperately trying to work out how to get the information to the other characters. It’s frustrating to be the player at this point, because you have the answers, you know the information, but you just need to figure out how the game wants you to move forward.

In one particularly egregious section, progress meant interacting with an item that I thought I had finished using. I was trying to time things down to the second, not realizing I was focused on the wrong thing. This problem is further compounded by the various dialogue options. It can be supremely frustrating to spend five minutes setting something up to try one dialogue option, only for it to fail and you have to do the whole setup again to try the next dialogue option. Meanwhile, you don’t know if you’re sailing down the right river of time or sitting in a puddle.

It’s just unfortunate, because Twelve Minutes starts out so strong but the wheels wobble by the last act. For the majority of the experience, it feels rewarding to pay attention, because it is possible to figure out the story beats ahead of time – it’s a similar sense of elation I had when watching the German Netflix series, Dark.

Twelve Minutes did have a few oddities outside of the timestream as well. There were times where characters would get stuck in an animation, unable to find the correct path around a couch. Even my colleague, Bill Lavoy, experienced a problem where the characters froze in place a few times, once requiring a restart of the game.

But one element that could not escape my focus was the use of the carpet – it’s the pattern straight out of The Shining. I’m all for homage, but this was so distracting. I was constantly wondering at the design choice.

And effect

Twelve Minutes tells a gripping story through a unique, time-jumping point-and-click adventure experience. There’s a sense of thrill working out the narrative based on little clues but, unfortunately, getting this information to the other characters to progress the plot can become a frustrating task of trial-and-error in the last act. Overall, Twelve Minutes is an unforgettable experience that has been worth the wait.


This review is based on a Steam code provided by the publisher. Twelve Minutes is set to release on August 19, 2021 on PC, Xbox One, and Xbox Series X/S as well as through Xbox Game Pass.

Guides Editor

Hailing from the land down under, Sam Chandler brings a bit of the southern hemisphere flair to his work. After bouncing round a few universities, securing a bachelor degree, and entering the video game industry, he's found his new family here at Shacknews as a Guides Editor. There's nothing he loves more than crafting a guide that will help someone. If you need help with a guide, or notice something not quite right, you can Tweet him: @SamuelChandler 

Review for
Twelve Minutes
8
Pros
  • A gripping narrative that begs to be unravelled
  • The time-jumping element is unique and refreshing
  • The voice acting is top notch
Cons
  • The trial-and-error aspect can be tedious
  • Some animation hiccups
From The Chatty
  • reply
    August 18, 2021 9:00 AM

    Sam Chandler posted a new article, Twelve Minutes review: The gift of time

    • reply
      August 18, 2021 9:18 AM

      Looks like review embargos just lifted on this. Only negative thing I'm seeing (beyond the usual problems of time loop games, seeing the same initial scenes over and over again) is that there's some of the fiddiness of old school adventure games where logic to the solutions doesn't always make sense. Nothing like the cat-hair-moustache nonsense.

      • reply
        August 18, 2021 9:21 AM

        Meanwhile, someone pissed in PC Gamer's coffee. https://www.pcgamer.com/12-minutes-review/

      • reply
        August 18, 2021 9:25 AM

        I actually played through as well (but Sam wrote the review) and my main frustration came from my perception that some of the dialogue choices make sense, but don't move things forward, so I'm playing through the initial setup again and again until I stumble on the right option. So, yeah, what you said, haha.

      • reply
        August 18, 2021 4:25 PM

        Personally, there was only one point in the story where I felt that the next step wasn't as logical as it could have been. The rest of my time with the game I felt I was making logical deductions and moving along well.

    • reply
      August 18, 2021 9:24 AM

      It’s on game pass so I will play it. Yay game pass

    • rms legacy 10 years mercury super mega
      reply
      August 18, 2021 12:56 PM

      How long did the playthrough take?

      • reply
        August 18, 2021 4:24 PM

        My first ending occurred after roughly 3-4 hours. So I've put about 10 hours into the game so far, trying to get other endings and Achievements. It's been good fun racking my brain trying to think of how to change the flow of events.

        • rms legacy 10 years mercury super mega
          reply
          August 18, 2021 4:32 PM

          Ah! That makes it an easy decision to try out

      • reply
        August 18, 2021 5:48 PM

        12 minutes

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