You stumble backward. You look at your surroundings, and everything feels like Deja Vu. But why? Didn’t you just pull that knife off the counter? Wasn’t there someone else here with you? You look at the clock, and it’s the top of the hour. You come to realize that you’re stuck in a time loop. So how do you escape, and why is this happening? In Twelve Minutes, an interactive top-down thriller from indie developer Luis Antonio, you aim to unearth the answers to these questions.
From the onset, you’ll catch the cinematic experience director Luis Antonio is going for as you ride up the elevator and walk down the hallway to your apartment door. Voiced dialogue can be heard from the protagonist with the background noise of neighbors to set the atmosphere, and if you’re observant enough, you’ll notice the carpet is from The Shining. I think it’s impressive how quickly the tone of the narrative becomes established–you prepare for a vivid story, but you don’t know just how much you’re going to get.
The true narrative begins in the apartment, where you come home to your wife and interact with her and the household. It doesn’t take long for a man who says he’s a police officer to pop up at your front door claiming your wife is guilty of murdering her own father eight years ago. The situation quickly escalates to him wrestling both of you to the ground and committing acts of police brutality. As he punishes you, you believe your world is about to end, but you immediately wake up at the front door from when you initially arrived. It’s loop time.
To solve the mystery and avoid the same routine, you must click your way around, interacting with different things to keep the story moving forward. In this manner, Twelve Minutes plays like a point-and-click adventure, but with a time limit. It’s here where you start to take everything in, such as the animation and environments. The art style is simplistic, showing the same room over for many scenes. While these characters are faceless, they are quite personable, thanks to the writing and acting performances.
Animation is decent but can be stiff and awkward at times. For example, you’ll sometimes notice a character walking in place or unnaturally reaching for an item. Hell, in each loop, you start off by kissing your wife, and they both look so uncomfortable with each other. Maybe I’m not used to seeing this kind of movement from a top-down perspective, so this issue is a bit trivial, but it would be nice to see some smoother animations.
When it comes to quality, one of the biggest appeals of Twelve Minutes is the A-list star-studded cast of James McAvoy, Daisy Ridley, and Willem Dafoe. They performed superbly, providing the characters with realistic tones and expressions. All of the actors gave each character believability to their words, thus engrossing you further into their dilemmas. It’s safe to say these actors carry the tense narrative. It’s a shame you have to hear so much of the dialogue being repeated thanks to the loop structure, but that’s to be expected.
With each loop, the cop will always appear at a certain time, so you must take timing and experimentation into account. In fact, Twelve Minutes is a game that requires your utmost patience and attention to detail, so bear that in mind. In addition, moving forward isn’t as simple as it seems, so you will need to go through plenty of trial and error.
The execution of this mechanic was pleasing during the first half, but it starts to falter as you progress. The experimentation gets more particular over time. In fact, one of the most crucial pieces of information can only be accessed by repeating a loop and changing one specific action. To be fair, this gameplay is ambitious by pursuing this kind of structure in the confines of a claustrophobic room. Nevertheless, the repetition and scrounging around to proceed in the story becomes a bit daunting.
As a game that primarily focuses on exploring the depth and past of its characters, the gameplay works both to its favor and detriment. The clues gained over time alongside the reactions from the characters build the story profile significantly, adding dramatic tension. Yet, because it becomes restrictive in the methodologies of moving forward, they start to lose their humanity, becoming objects to use to find a way out. As opposed to your natural urge to discover more, it just becomes a grind fest to free yourself from a specific run.
To the game’s credit, frustration is what you should be feeling. The protagonist is extremely irritated at this repeated scenario, so what better way to relate to someone than to share their frustrations. Unfortunately, each run is restricted in time, and seeing the same dialogue can really get on your nerves.
This is clever as it forces you to be more observant and patient, using memorization skills when needed. But, on the other hand, it’s maybe a bit too reliant on fixed paths, thus being a major limitation in plot progression. It also doesn’t help that the stakes are so low once you know you can just keep trying without any repercussions.
The narrative evolves into a compelling tale. Questions needing answers are numerous, but each clue picked up unlocks new reactions. There’s so much more to this story than I could have imagined, so when it comes to storytelling, Twelve Minutes delivers in, giving you a lot to work with.
Though there is something I want to mention since it caught me off guard. This game doesn’t have a content warning. Nothing explicit is needed, but one scene, in particular, surprised me with its graphic and brutal detail. Luckily, it isn’t a necessary scene for people to witness, so it can completely blow right through it.
As is typical of a narrative thriller, there will be twists and turns along the way. The unraveling of the mystery becomes more fascinating over time. A detail can suddenly change your outlook on the grand scheme of the characters and their conflicts. However, when it comes to the details you unearth, some twists felt stronger than others.
In fact, there’s one particular twist that left me completely underwhelmed. But I don’t want that to deter you. This is a game that’ll vary by individual. Some plot points can be either enthralling or disappointing, given your exposure and experience with the genre. To sum it up, some twists are a hit or miss, but unfortunately, I personally experienced more misses.
Twelve Minutes is an engrossing adventure that is more about the journey than the destination. It’s not the most thrilling or thought-provoking story out there, but it still satiates that mystery craving. The star-studded casting elevates the atmosphere, and the involvement of the player is a unique way to take on the classic point-and-click genre. Though you’ll have to suffer through lengthy moments of tedium and irritation, there’s a lot to unpack and discover in this intriguing tale.
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