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​'Twelve Minutes' Review: A Thrilling Time Loop Puzzler With A Twist

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​'Twelve Minutes' Review: A Thrilling Time Loop Puzzler With A Twist

Time loops and video games go together so beautifully that it's always struck me as odd we don't see more of them.

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The Legend Of Zelda: Majora's Mask is a fan-favourite for its dark Groundhog Day-style approach to the end of the world. 2019's Outer Wilds is a similarly melancholy meditation with a cyclical twist. More recently, this year's excellent Returnal and the upcoming Deathloop (both PlayStation 5 exclusives, weirdly) center around protagonists trapped in a seemingly unbreakable loop for unknown reasons.

In each of these games, the primary objective is to discover the cause of and end the loop. To break the cycle and get on with life, such as it is. There's a wonderful catharsis in playing these games. Gradually unraveling elaborate mysteries. Learning from mistakes. Discovering that one choice that can completely alter a run and reveal a rich seam of new information as you edge ever closer to breaking free. I love it.

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Twelve Minutes is the latest addition to the hallowed ranks of the time loop video game, and I'm more than happy to report that it absolutely can stand shoulder-to-shoulder with its predecessors - for the most part.

Developed by Luis Antonio and published by the always-reliable Annapurna Interactive, Twelve Minutes is a tight and wonderfully focused point-and-click puzzle thriller with an all-star cast and plenty of twists.

Players take control of an unnamed husband (James McAvoy) who arrives home to the flat he shares with his equally unnamed wife (Daisy Ridley). Your wife has a special evening planned for you, it seems, and exciting news to share.

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The romantic evening is cut short, however, when a cop (Willem Dafoe) enters the apartment. He claims he's arresting your wife for the murder of her father eight years ago, before proceeding to restrain the couple and murder you... at which point you're immediately transported back to the start of the evening to do it all again.

12 Minutes / Credit: Annapurna Interactive
12 Minutes / Credit: Annapurna Interactive

And so the core loop, if you'll pardon the expression, of Twelve Minutes is established. At the start of each run, you're armed with nothing more than the information you were able to obtain on the previous loop. We know that the cop will be at the door in a matter of minutes, and if we don't prepare the right combination of words or actions, he's going to kill us. That's a delicious level of pressure for a puzzle game, and heightens the stakes considerably.

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The ding of the elevator at the end of the corridor. The footsteps of the cop marching towards your front door with fated inevitability. These are sounds you're become all-too familiar with, and they will never not be met with a horrified thrill - even on the rare occasion that you feel ready for what might happen next. Twelve Minutes delights in pulling the rug from underneath you.

The action is entirely confined to the flat, which consists of a living room/kitchen, bedroom, bathroom, and closet. This only adds to the exquisite tension of knowing a man is on his way up to murder you. You can try to convince your wife to leave the apartment, but as soon as you step out of the door the loop resets. You can try calling 911 on your wife's phone, but they won't arrive until long after the cop has gotten what he needs. The only way out is to think.

Unlike other point-and-click games with vast amounts of items to uncover and environments to explore, Twelve Minutes demands you find your way out of this mess using three sparse rooms and a very small handful of items.

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12 Minutes / Credit: Annapurna Interactive
12 Minutes / Credit: Annapurna Interactive

It's an inspired move that forces you to think about even the most mundane details in new ways. How might a busted light switch help you out? What would happen if you simply tried to hide in the closet for an entire loop? The first few runs are a thrill as all the pieces slowly start to fall into place and you unlock new possibilities simply by talking and presenting the right information to the right person at the right time.

Hidden motivations soon become clear, and past truths emerge. You ultimately find yourself playing the role of detective, pinging between conversations with both your wife and the cop in different loops, using information learned from one to further conversations with the other, all the while being careful about when and where to reveal just what you know.

To give away much more about the story would defeat the purpose of the game. But believe me when I say this is a mystery you'll want to unravel for yourself. There are a number of gut-wrenching twists and one late-game revelation that we'll be talking about for a long time to come.

Twelve Minutes is not without its faults. The specific circumstances in which you have to reveal information to your wife and the cop to push the story forward is usually a strength. You learn to manipulate the environment and characters, getting them to where they need to be to hear or see certain things. Context is king.

12 Minutes / Credit: Annapurna Interactive
12 Minutes / Credit: Annapurna Interactive

But this can also work against the urgency of the story Twelve Minutes is trying to tell. There are one or two moments where I'd worked out a plot beat well ahead of time. Unfortunately, the game didn't want to acknowledge that my character knew what I, the player, had already worked out until I'd shown an item to another character under just the right circumstances.

In one crucial moment towards the end of the game, I knew what the necessary item was, and I knew who needed to see it. But the only scenario in which I could actually show it to them and have it register didn't make an awful lot of sense. This meant there was over an hour between my working it out and the game actually moving forward with me. That rather took the wind out of the reveal and climax, which was... frustrating.

The fact the game is centered around a time loop also somewhat inevitably means plenty of repetition. This isn't an issue in a game like Majora's Mask, Outer Wilds, or Returnal where the moment-to-moment gameplay is heavily action-oriented, but Twelve Minutes revolves around talking. You'll be having the same conversations and performing the same actions multiple times as you play with every possible scenario and outcome.

This isn't a major issue for the most part, fortunately. You can skip through a lot of dialogue you've already seen and even perform certain actions to move time ahead faster. Still, it occasionally rankles... especially in the moments where you end up well and truly stuck and run through a handful of loops feeling like you're not making any progress at all.

Minor irritations aside, I can't fault Twelve Minutes for its ambition. Luis Antonio has set out to tell the kind of story that can only truly be told in a video game, offering up a tense and often deeply unsettling interactive thriller that succeeds in breathing new life into the point-and-click adventure genre. I can say with certainty that the story and its potential outcomes won't be for everyone, but you'll be left chewing over what happened hours after the credits roll.

Pros: Claustrophobic setting, Willem Dafoe is excellent, unbearably tense at times

Cons: Lots of repetition, easy to get stuck, ending won't be for everyone

For fans of: Outer Wilds, Oxenfree, The Vanishing Of Ethan Carter

8/10: Excellent

Twelve Minutes is available now for Xbox One (version tested), Xbox Series consoles, and PC via Steam. Code for review was supplied by the publisher. Find a guide to GAMINGbible's review scores here.

Featured Image Credit: Annapurna Interactive

Topics: Xbox, Review, News

Ewan Moore
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