Same as it Ever Was
A finite resource that manhandles the basic constructs of life as we know it. So many things to see, to do, to experience: with one common enemy against you. The passage of time is a constant: to always move forward with no turning back, for better or for worse. To relive a moment in time is something wished for by many, to enjoy the brilliance and joy of your favorite time of life. But what if you were given that miracle to relive a moment you didn’t want?
A man enters his apartment, his wife heard humming from inside the bathroom. She leaves the bathroom and into the arms of her husband. “Best night ever,” she greets him with the promise of dessert and a special announcement. A moment of celebration turns into confusion as a knock on the door demands the entry of the police officer behind it. When opened, the police officer zip ties both the wife and the man, accusing the wife of the murder of her father 8 years ago. With the police officer’s demands of a watch she knows the location of, the wife insists ignorance. The officer decides to make her talk in other ways, and proceeds to choke the life out of her husband. With screams, cries, and fading breath, the husband is teleported back to his wife’s humming from inside the bathroom. The man now must find why the loop is happening, and how to escape it with nothing but time on his side.
12 Minutes places its puzzles and mysteries in three rooms of your wife’s apartment. Each loop gives 12 minutes (which always feels short when you’re focused on a task at hand) to start collecting clues as to what traps the man in the loop. If you’ve played any point-and-click adventures you’ll feel right at home: items of interest are dropped into an easily accessible inventory slotted at the top of the screen, where items can be dragged together to combine or to other items to interact.
Movement is tackled the same in a point-and-click style, where the husband will walk to where is clicked. Moving is oddly clunky, as clicking through areas can cause players to interact with items instead of going past them. Many times I wanted to enter a room, only to shut the door in front of me or get caught on furniture walking their intended line. I had one instance where walking into someone snapped both characters into the floor and required a hard reset to fix. Having WASD controls would help remedy some of these issues but the option is not present, which is just weird to not have.
Spearheading the main characters are some serious AAA talent, with James McAvoy, Daisy Ridley, and Willem Dafoe gracing the platform to play the husband, wife, and police respectively. I’m not sure if this was a result of the pandemic, but the lines do not sound like they were recorded together. While the voice talent is highly regarded the execution is shockingly shoddy. There’s no continuity with any of the conversations, separate lines recorded are piecemealed together and are glaringly obvious by how disjointed scenes will sound when the tempo and tone of conversations will change mid-sentence. Voice lines also have a funny way of cutting themselves off and repeating during particularly tense scenes, which makes me feel bad giggling at the constant “no-no-no-no-” from my wife overlapping itself thrice over while she gets tied up and thrown to the ground.
12 Minutes maintains a nicely paced first half of the game, keeping the objective of bread crumbs tidy and understandable to allow further loops to be accessed at a tolerable level, but this loses steam heavily going into the second half. Where the first half solutions to progress the loops were simple, one particular loop asks for a much longer line of tasks that nearly triples your connect-the-dots output, and this Rube Goldberg setup is necessary to advance plot. If you can’t put it together, be ready to hear a lot of humming as you’ll be spinning your tires for a while. This particular loop also requires you to obtain a good bit of information that helps explain why certain things are happening and how to follow up on those things in future loops, but unless you know what exactly to seek for, you won’t have enough time to hear and learn everything in one loop. This makes the game’s run time feel artificially bloated and is a nuisance when you have to re-do certain loops multiple times even though you’ve solved the puzzle for that loop.
And while I was certainly interested in the mystery of the husband’s predicament, the ending is…okay? The final third of 12 Minutes starts flinging twist after twist like a Chubby Checker album, where the convincingly interesting murder-mystery spirals into what feels a Jerry Springer episode and goes for shock value more than a cohesive explanation. Once the dust settles, the multiple endings provide some closure but the True Ending feels even dumber than the descent of the plot. Without spoiling anything you’re going to be asking yourself, “When did they learn to do that?” and “Why are we only learning about this now?” A very disjointed ending on a roller coaster that needs all the lug nuts it can get to stay steady.
Finishing 12 Minutes really disappointed me, because I was all-in on the mystery of the who, why, and when of the time loop and why this couple was put into the treacherous territory they were so desperate to escape from. But completing this game had me scratching my head and shrugging at people saying what a tour de force this game is. 12 Minutes needed more polish, better tools, and maybe a different medium to better tell its tale.
But above all, it needed more-
A finite resource that manhandles the basic constructs of life as we know it…
Reviewed on XBOX Game Pass for PC.