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Twelve Minutes Review

Twelve Minutes Review

Twelve Minutes is a game that has been on my radar since its 2019 Microsoft press conference reveal. Developed by Luis Antonio and published by Annapurna Interactive, Twelve Minutes is a modern take on the classic point-and-click adventure game. The premise is simple, a man is stuck in a time loop that resets every ten minutes (against what the title may have you think) and attempts to find his way out by solving a mystery of sorts. We won’t be getting into many story specifics in this review (because discovering that yourself is a big part of the experience), but the game offers many twists and turns in its 4-6 hour run time. The artistic direction immediately gives the game a unique sense of character and the performances of its star-studded cast convey a great range of emotion that is not common to see in smaller budget indie titles. However, while the storytelling on display is of extremely high quality, Twelve Minutes isn’t able to shake some of the common annoyances that plague the point-and-click genre. 

The first thing players will notice about Twelve Minutes is its presentation. The game goes for a fairly minimalist style when it comes to its overall look, but it’s by no means a bland look. A truly appealing-looking minimalist art style is quite hard to pull off and there is enough detail and variation in the game’s central apartment location that it manages to pull off in spades. The overhead camera angle is another choice that lends the game its strong sense of identity. The camera perspective mixed with the minimalist art style gives the game an almost diorama look at times which lends itself well not only to the gameplay but also layered narrative.

Where the minimalist style betrays the game is in its character models and animation. Looking at everything from the top down, the player doesn’t normally see the faces of the characters. Most of the time this isn’t a problem, however, there are a few moments during gameplay where players can get a closer look at the characters' faces. Here they will find a blurry level of detail and no facial animation (particularly when looking out the peephole of the apartment door). Due to the point-and-click nature of the gameplay and the use of motion capture, sometimes character actions play out incredibly stiff and rigid, specifically when walking between interactables. I will note the game's strong immersive qualities in a bit, but the visual hiccups tend to suck a player right out of the moment.

Twelve Minutes Review

From its soundtrack to its dialogue mixing, Twelve Minutes sounds fantastic. Reflecting the minimalist style, the score plays primarily with piano and string instruments but all the tracks have an elegance and sinisterness about them that help elevate the themes, story, and performances. It was a particularly nice touch to have musical cues play when the player makes specific choices to indicate a certain path they may be heading down in any given loop. While you may not walk down the street whistling any of its tunes, the score is an impactful part of the package that definitely contributes to the overall Kubrick-inspired vibe of the game.

The performances deserve special praise due to the celebrity talent attached, the main roles being played by James McAvoy, Daisy Ridley, and Willem Dafoe. Occasionally on the internet there are debates about whether the video game industry should rely on Hollywood celebrity talent or elevate new voices unique to the medium. It’s a debate that has its merit, however, in the case of Twelve Minutes, the celebrity cast is definitely a plus. The game’s narrative goes in a variety of directions and requires the characters to express an entire spectrum of emotions and reactions to many different scenarios and outcomes. James, Daisy, and Willem have such a masterful way of expressing these fluctuations of emotion and it really goes a long way in sucking the player deeper into the mystery. The dialogue is well written and never comes off as corny or out of place. It's believable, grounded, and is almost written to play into the strengths of each of the actors, Daisy and Willem being standouts in this regard. Occasionally some responses or line deliveries, like the walking animations, feel a little rigid or abrupt but these moments are thankfully few and far between. The chemistry between all three actors is magnetic and if nothing else, the performances alone would be worth the price of admission to experience yourself.

Twelve Minutes Review

The gameplay in Twelve Minutes is focused, deliberate, controlled, and immersive nearly to the point of frustration. Being confined to a single 3 room apartment and a time loop that resets every 10 minutes means that there are a finite amount of items and characters you can interact with. While it may not seem like much on paper, there are a surprising amount of interactables and dialogue options that unravel over the numerous loops the player goes through. Eventually, the number of paths available for the player to pursue balloons out, and the discovery of new paths and ideas to try flow very naturally while never becoming overwhelming or feeling like there are too many paths. Occasionally paths will end prematurely or will lead to dead ends, but these are in service of solving the greater puzzle of why time is looping.

This small-scale situation fosters an intense sense of immersion. If a run is abruptly cut short, the main character may convey agitation that matches the player's mood in being ripped out of a moment before a critical piece of information is shared. Being a video game, the player can choose to pursue some more outlandish or goofy actions that will result in funny exchanges or reactions from the other characters. As more options become available to the player, they truly get a sense that they are figuring out the rules and unraveling the mystery at the same time the main character is and it is an intriguing phenomenon that other games rarely tap into. The game also features a number of endings which would almost be expected in a game of this type. These endings are all fairly different from one another, but there is one ending in particular, that is more permanent than the rest and feels like the intended ending for the game, seeing as the end credits are triggered right after. 

The problem with this heightened sense of immersion and focused game design is a problem that is found in many point-and-click adventure games; some interactions with the environment are not as clearly telegraphed as others. There came a point in my playtime where I came to a standstill in terms of progression. I was clearly missing something because I had exhausted all my dialogue options, I had picked up every item, I had seemingly found all the things I could click on in the loop and couldn’t get anything new to trigger. It was at this point after many attempts of fumbling around with nothing to show, that I became sucked out of the experience so much that the game sort of lost its fun explorational aspects and I just wanted to move on. As spoiler-free as possible, turns out I was using a certain item on the wrong part of a body. Once this was discovered, I was able to have new conversation options and keep making progress.

This is where the frustrating aspects of the game set in. While it is ludonarrative consistent, having the player reflect the frustrated emotions of the main character, being frustrated by game mechanics rarely results in having a fun time. This feeling of frustration can be compounded when certain sequences of events require a few minutes of setup time in order to retry with a new line of dialogue or using a different item only to have the loop get cut short.  Some adventure games get around this by offering some kind of in-game hint tool which Twelve Minutes doesn’t seem to include.

Twelve Minutes Review

But it is here we come to a philosophical crossroads, by including a tool of this type the game would surely become less frustrating, but it would also have the effect of lessening the significance of solving the grand time loop puzzle. The game deliberately takes a hands-off approach and lets the player figure things out for themselves, and to that degree, it can push certain players away. The point of all this being nobody likes feeling stuck in a game. While a hint button would likely go against the ethos of the core design of the game, I think certain interactables in the game could benefit from extra highlighting or something to draw the player’s attention to recognize other potential options. 

Twelve Minutes’ gripping narrative bolstered by a strong cast, focused gameplay, and artistic direction makes it a game that is easy to recommend to fans of point and click adventures or for those looking to experience a deep story and an emotional thrill ride. The visuals are striking while also having their weaker aspects, the performances are standout, and the gameplay can be immersive even if a bit frustrating at times. If you are the type of player that can let a few janky animations slide and aren’t ashamed to consult a guide when you get stuck, then it’s definitely a game and a story worth experiencing. Twelve Minutes is available now on Xbox consoles, Xbox Game Pass, and PC via Steam.

Twelve Minutes | 7 | Good

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