It has been four days, eight hours, fifty minutes and twenty-nine seconds since I played 12 Minutes and I’ve been perplexed as to how to write this review. Normally, this would be kind of a good thing. The moment of reflection that comes after seeing something that feels profound, provoking an introspection as to why it resonated so much doesn’t happen with 12 Minutes.
It’s a game that fails to tackle its heavy ideas under the guise of a prestige home invasion story; it crumbles under its own weight through questionable story choices and janky controls. The game itself is an attempt at a decent point and click adventure that only manages to make itself unforgettable by fighting what makes it good in hopes of making it special.
Now, I do not mean this to sound harsh. I truly felt that this was the case after I reached the end credits. The game’s premise and set up are pretty standard for a video game. You play as a husband stuck in a time loop on the night of a special dinner with your wife, only to have it interrupted by a cop who states your wife is a suspect in a major crime from her past. Your goal in the game is to find a way to stop the loop and save your wife.
The game’s adventure approach allows its focus to be its storytelling and puzzle-solving that create tension as you progress each loop, while learning something different from each loop. The game encourages you to experiment with different choices such as how you speak to your wife, how you turn on a light, or even how you walk through the door to create a reward system that feels engaging each time. Whenever I got a breadcrumb of knowledge, I felt myself becoming more involved in what was happening and smiling at how I figured out the puzzle.
This aspect of the game is to be praised. The reward for each loop would outweigh my frustration with some of the jank that came from the premise itself. Each loop begins the same it always does, but so does the dialogue. For every question you must ask to get a certain loop mechanic to start, the conversation was always the same. There was never variation in how your character would state something, and the other characters always spoke the same lines. It never felt as though the loop your character was in had any major change to the world or people around him. It felt like the same moment with the same time constraints, and it began to get tiresome after hearing it the tenth time.
Certain progression does change certain outcomes, but this only truly occurs under the right conditions in the game. Choices from other characters will always lead to the same outcome no matter what information is given to said characters or the choices you make. When the loop is aligned with its puzzle mechanics and you can see it all, it can feel like a symphony in motion, but there are plenty of moments that halt it in its tracks. Puzzles to get information are not telegraphed clearly through the game.
Plenty of my successes came from me accidentally doing something or guessing a moment after several tries instead of it flowing from the communication of the game itself. There is a very particular endgame puzzle that was so infuriating to figure out that I had to look at a guide for a moment only to be perplexed and annoyed by the answer. The hint the game gave me didn’t even match up with the task. With these moments, the earlier parts that made it enjoyable to experiment and see what would change, became annoying after constant repeats and being frustrating to solve.
Again, I was willing to ignore and forgive these flaws as just “indie game jank” because I was enjoying its central story. Now this isn’t just my own opinion. It was in their marketing and the game’s own presentation. From its title card orchestra overture, the star-studded cast, its movie poster inspired cover, the description of it being a “Interactive Thriller,” 12 Minutes is proclaiming itself to be a story driven experience and an important one at that. I agreed with that sentiment as I journeyed through it. I was gripped until I got right to the twist and that’s when it fell face first.
I want to preface with this: from here on out, in order to get my full thoughts on this game and to grapple with my feelings of it I have to go full spoiler. For the short of it, I would definitely recommend this game if you have Xbox Gamepass. For those who don’t, if you have the money to spend on a few hours with an experience that is unlike anything you’ve played, go for it, but the ending might not be for you. Now, for all the others who would like to read the rest or have played the game and want to relate to someone who felt things you did or didn’t, welcome. This is the last chance, but you can always loop back to the top of the article and forget it all happened.
Final Warning. Okay.
As 12 Minutes reaches its climax of the game, the husband has been able to stop the cop from killing his wife and in fact found that her half-brother was the true murderer. The last puzzle is how you try to help the cop find the name of the maid who gave birth to the brother by showing him literally the baby’s clothes with the same name of the maid. All of this triggers the cop’s memory of the maid and you find out that she was your mother, which makes you your wife’s half-brother and the man who was the murderer all along.
DUN DUN DUNNN
That’s it. That is the twist. A game that once was about the harrowing everyman’s worst nightmare of an intruder coming into your house to harm your loved one and what honesty and truth means in a relationship becomes a shock twist about incest. Now, this is the moment where all the game’s faults that I had been able to wave away due to its strong storytelling fall back on itself. This doesn’t make narrative sense either —the timeline of where you met your wife contradicts the time you would’ve committed the murder because that is the same piece of information that exonerates her from the murder. So how can you be at the same place at the same time? Easy, because it would mean none of this was real. That this game was never about any of this home intruder stuff but instead was about this man’s inner turmoil of what he did to his sister/wife and the possible murder of his father. IT WAS ALL A DREAM.
None of it mattered. None of the loops, the cop, the cop’s cancer ridden daughter, your wife, none of it. This was an exercise of what could be either:
• A guilt-ridden man’s PTSD.
• A therapy session of trying to erase or bring back memories of this ordeal.
• Or a guilt-ridden man trying to wrestle with the knowledge that he didn’t tell his sister/wife the truth.
I’m sure there are other options, but it doesn’t matter because none of it mattered. It’s left up to the player’s imagination. An edgy turn to make a game feel more interesting than it really is and it shows. It’s Heavy Rain in a three-person, one act play. I’m sure there are people who will vibe with this story. I have seen plenty of people love Heavy Rain, hell I still hold a soft spot for it, too.
The problem I have with this is how it reflects a moment in games from a decade ago that feels like gamers have moved on from. This game has been in development for about seven of those years. It carries a relic of games long past that try so hard to be something bigger than what games are perceived to be now, when games have moved past this style of writing for a while.
I loved my experience with 12 Minutes right up until I didn’t. This is normal for anyone in games, so don’t let my review convince you not to play it because honestly this experience is worth it to me. I will undoubtedly continue talking about, and engaging in, discussion of this game. I just wish it tried harder to be the story it already was or telegraphed better the game it wanted to be.
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