Twelve Minutes Review

September 15, 2021
Also on: Xbox Series
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Twelve Minutes’ premise is a doozy. Your avatar, voiced by James McAvoy, arrives home from work and makes his way to his apartment where his wife, voiced by Daisy Ridley, is already at home. Once you work out how to enter you go through the kind of things you might do in your actual, real life. Greet your wife, give her a kiss and a cuddle, switch the radio on, check the weather outside, go to the bathroom or sit on the sofa. Life is just very normal. But then, things change more quickly than seems reasonable. A knock; a visitor. Suggestions of impropriety and heavy layers of misinformation and swindling over multiple years is indicated. Then, you’re back at the front door just 12 (or fewer) minutes ago. 

So, it’s Groundhog Day, in interactive format. I mean, you’re not trying to find the perfect solution to the perfect romance, but you are stuck in a time loop. You do retain all of your knowledge and those around you, don’t. Instead of one day it’s Twelve Minutes, or however many you manage to survive for. Unfortunately though you do need to play it again and again as many times as Phil Connors did in-between all the Punxsutawney Phil cuts – that is, tens of thousands of times and frankly, it reached critical levels of tedium in stunningly quick fashion.

This could be the first, or millionth time I saw this screen.

Fundamentally there are two issues. One, the repetitive nature of the game plays out frustratingly; as you work your way back to a point you’ve been in previously – same inventory; same dialogue tree – your next step should always be encouraging and progressive, but too often it just sends you to a brick wall, or endgame often, too. Two, making progress is less about solving puzzles and more just unlocking the next path of divergence which inches you closer to the goal. 

The game has high production values for what is, at heart, an indie game. Developed by Luis Antonio, an ex-Rockstar employee and published by Annapurna Interactive, of What Remains of Edith Finch and Florence fame, amongst others, it has a certain level of something. Of three characters in the game, two voiced by already noted Hollywood stars, the third is played by Willem Dafoe. It all looks good too, and sounds delightful. The animation is a little stuttering, or perhaps is better described as animatronic or puppet-like, but this doesn’t really cause consternation as the game plays out entirely in a slightly-angled, top-down view which is far more distracting than the animations within. It feels unusual, and never really sits well compared to the myriad camera views in other games. 

A not-at-all passive-aggressive clock that acts as a pause screen.

If I were to boil down the gameplay, it would be to describe it as a procedural. It’s CSI, or NCIS in time loop-mystery form, with a need to get there by way of becoming an expert. People over time have tried to estimate how many days/months/years Groundhog Day covers. If you think about the various things Phil becomes an expert in, like piano playing and ice sculpture; and combine it with the old adage that it takes 10,000 hours to become an expert, then the film could actually take place over so many years. In Twelve Minutes, you have to do things over and over again. You talk to your wife, you pick up the knife, you open the vent or read the telephone’s messages. One time you sit down for pudding you may do things in the right way, and the right order, that you get a new nugget of information. Will that be enough next time around to push the story forwards; to capture another character in the moment and go down another path? 

So the game has heavy hitters involved and it feels more than it is, but the proof unfortunately isn’t there, because mechanically it doesn’t feel fun and this turns into frustration and disengagement. I got stuck a lot. Not because anything was hard upon reflection, but that I just couldn’t get the right order, the right combination of things. It’s like the old point-and-click trope whereby you randomly combine two inexplicably related things and magically create a solution, but in the context of Twelve Minutes, you have to go through the whole game each time rather than just adding things from your inventory over and over. It doesn’t feel entirely logical, there is a timesink of pain and by the end you have a story in front of you which doesn’t hit the right emotional notes because of the way you’ve had to get there. 

The hallway before the apartment made me think of The Shining. Didn't scare me. At all. Nope.

Of course, if you get lucky, or you’re just better than me at this type of game (note: another JDR reviewer managed to beat the game in a fraction of the time), then you might travel over the twists and turns, the peaks and troughs, ending on a bright note. If you do, then there is much to admire at the very least. That goes for everyone to be fair. What doesn’t come through to me is much to like, and for that it’s hard to recommend to anyone no matter how intriguing the premise. So, put your little hand in mine, There ain't no hill or mountain we can't climb...yes, I’m off to rewatch Groundhog Day...again, to get my fill of time loops.

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A premise that had me at hello, but a game which I couldn’t wait to finish. It's a puzzler with high production values but it doesn’t hit the right beats and consequently suffers for it.
Luciano Howard

I've been gaming for 35+ years on the Commodore VIC-20 to the PlayStation 5 and pretty much everything in-between. I enjoy all kinds of games but if I had to pick a couple in particular, I'd say I adore Mario and love Dark Souls. I can talk about either an awful lot should you want to!