It’s rare for a game’s concept to hook me within a few seconds, but Twelve Minutes managed to do that way back in 2015. Before it gained an all-star cast including Daisy Ridley, James McAvoy and Willem Dafoe, it was an intriguing indie point-and-click adventure with a Groundhog’s Day-esque time loop and a unique, top-down perspective. Its interactive narrative, combined with a wealth of cinematic influences, made it seem as if developer Luis Antonio was crafting something meant just for me.
That’s pretty much how I felt at the beginning of the game. You play as a man who comes home to a small apartment. Your wife has some special news, which you celebrate over a romantic dinner. All of a sudden, a cop starts pounding on the door and accuses her of murder. Things go downhill fast, and in an instant you’re right back to the beginning of the night. Your mission: Figure out what the hell is happening.
Sounds like a solid thriller, right? But after spending six hours with the game, I was furious. What started out as a fun mystery devolved into a repetitive slog. I was forced to abuse my seemingly lovely wife. Sometimes I had to watch her be repeatedly tortured by that sadistic cop. And I became a murderer myself, several times over. Making things even worse, my reward for that hellish journey was an array of twists so convoluted, so mind-numbingly dumb, I was angry about it for days. Say what you will about the works of M. Night Shyamalan, but at least his twists feel original. (And yes, I know those twists occur less often than you may think.)
I won’t spoil where Twelve Minutes ultimately goes. And, to be honest, I’m hesitant to even point out that a story has twists at all. But for a mystery like this, I figure that’s to be expected. All of this time looping detective work just has to lead to something truly dramatic! And it’s clear that Luis Antonio genuinely wants to blow your mind. It’s just a shame almost everything falls flat at the end.
That’s not to say Twelve Minutes isn’t worth playing. The game’s early hours set up a fascinating mystery box. Your small apartment has a cramped kitchen and living space, a bathroom, a bathroom and a closet. That’s it. Everything you need to complete the game is there (or gets there later). Some of those puzzle pieces feel organic, like the mugs that you can fill with water, or the large knife tempting you in the kitchen. Some of them, like the light switch that can electrocute people on cue, are hilariously convenient.