Within my first hour of Luis Antonio’s 12 Minutes, I was quickly invested in this time loop thriller’s many mysteries. The bold top-down perspective pairs well with the Hollywood voice cast of Daisy Ridley, James McAvoy, and Willem Dafoe. And it’s fun to see how you, as a player, can interact with objects and spaces throughout different timelines. After that initial hour, however, I felt like I was trapped in a real-life time loop, getting stuck on tedious and vague storytelling that made an eight-hour experience feel almost endless. 12 Minutes has cool concepts and stellar actors that get overshadowed by going down a gross, unwarned path to make a very uncomfortable puzzle-based story.
In this Annapurna Interactive produced title, you play as a man (James McAvoy) who keeps restarting the same titular 12 minutes of his day. He gets home, kisses his wife (Daisy Ridley), and then gets knocked out by a cop (Willem Dafoe) who accuses his beloved of murder. Your goal is to figure out what the hell is going on, and escape the time loop unscathed. You’re free to alter that schedule as you see fit, doing anything from revealing information you’ve learned from other loops, hiding in a closet and calling the cops, or going full joker mode and dancing towards your impending doom. The lighting and design for the apartment set a moody tone that makes this eternal space feel authentically lived in, which is nice because all of your interactions happen here.
12 Minutes has a clear visual style and multiple high-budget film actors, which has sprung equations to classic thriller movies, like The Shining or Memento, but after finishing the story I wouldn’t say they’re comparable. There isn’t that much suspense in 12 Minutes because the same things keep happening, and most of the game involves calculated preparation based on results you know to be true. Another reason why I’m opposed to framing this game like a movie is because its redeeming qualities are that it has so many non-linear interactive elements, time loop nonsense, and player choice that this story could only exist within the parameters of a video game. That’s something that should be celebrated, and not painted to mimic another medium. Unfortunately about halfway through it becomes obvious that there are no lifeboats in 12 Minutes‘ sea of options, leaving players marooned on an isle of incessant trial and error.
12 Minutes operates in time cycles, so if you want to find out information from a certain dialogue tree you’ll have to repeat a long series of actions just to get back into that conversation. To question the cop, for example, I had to run around completing numerous tasks in a specific order after exhausting other options, until finally I had him tied up and ready to interrogate.
Frustratingly, there isn’t a decent way to skip these sections at all. This constant setup and takedown is grueling and drags out the experience when you’re testing out possible solutions. It happens so often that I started to resent voice lines and moments that previously felt novel. The game features multiple different endings, and it’d be fascinating to dig into how widely the narrative diverges, but I do not have it in me to go through hours of the exact same motions to try that again. I love a good mystery, and I love when video games allow me to poke around and solve things in my own quirky ways, but 12 Minutes‘ solutions too often feel out of the blue and unsatisfying.
Three times during my playthrough I was legitimately bewildered at what next steps to take. The only way I progressed was by emailing developer Luis Antonio’s helpline that was provided with the review code (a benefit most players won’t have). Thankfully, I got a quick response and was able to get back on track, but after a few more road bumps and coworkers asking for help on the same parts I got stuck on, it quickly became apparent that this story’s breadcrumbs are sparse and enigmatic to a frustrating fault. The main twist of the game is a gross and especially confusing example, requiring an object interaction that expects a questionable and large logical leap from the player. 12 Minutes would immensely benefit from a help or hint option, especially because there are multiple points in the game that feel like endings, even though the game continues without a hint as to what your next course of action is.
12 Minutes looks very clean and plays with some captivating time loop ideas at the start, but a few hours in it ends up feeling extremely laborious due to a bunch of small, confusing story interactions that manifest into a series of finales with awkward landings. While I really don’t gel with the ending, the story beats leading up to it aren’t bad. The problem is that they get lost in the murkiness of tedious repetition. Adding a hint, save, skip, or other quality-of-life update would definitely shave hours off of what could be a short and entertaining video game thriller.