Being able to live a day over and over where my significant other makes my favourite dessert followed by a visit from Willem Dafoe is a dream I never knew I wanted. However, in the world of 12 Minutes, this dream quickly descends into a nightmare.
12 Minutes, developed by Luís António and published by Annapurna Interactive, is a top down point-and-click adventure set in an apartment seemingly caught in a time loop. It centers on the three characters of Husband,” who you play as (voiced by James McAvoy), “Wife” (voiced by Daisy Ridley), and “Policeman” (voiced by Willem Dafoe). An unexpected visit from Dafoe’s character send’s the night into a time spiral which you are tasked with solving.
The cast is stellar and one of the things that makes the repeating voice lines bearable. Ridley’s performance as the Wife that’s hiding a dark secret is compelling, paired with McAvoy’s clueless and frightened Husband, who slowly comes to terms with the Groundhog Day-style evening that he is having. Willem Dafoe’s threatening performance as the Policeman is the strongest of the three; Dafoe brings a presence like no other to every character he plays, and this one is no exception.
12 Minutes’ narrative is a strange one. Because the game’s story and mechanics are so closely tied together, a lack of progression can cause the story to become stale and frustrating. I never encountered any long term progression issues, so the vast majority of the story was really intriguing. Piecing together the story, loop after loop, offered just enough excitement to keep me hunting for clues. Items gain new significance the further you explore into the narrative.
However, towards the end of the game, which I won’t be spoiling, the narrative takes a serious turn which leaves a lot to be desired. Deep explorations of guilt and grief that are incredibly well constructed are thrown aside in favour of a shocking finale. Fully fleshed-out characters become pawns in a larger, more absurd narrative that really didn’t click with me. Convenient plot devices are employed in order to make this change happen, which led to a further disconnect with characters that had really started to grow on me. Dafoe’s narrative suffers the most from this twist, as he is sidelined in order to spotlight the main character. With a performance that good, it really is a shame to waste it. To an extent, I understand why the main character is spotlighted—after all it is the player character—but I wish I had a more rounded conclusion to Dafoe’s arc.
Mechanically, the game works well. The slow pacing of everything you do in the game does an excellent job of building tension. Sneaking into a closet and making a mobile call before your wife appears is just one of the more time-sensitive tasks that need to be completed. There is an immense satisfaction when everything clicks, and this is when 12 Minutes is at its strongest. Racing into the room, picking up all the items you need and furiously clicking all the right contextual points is such an excellent feeling. When I hit the occasional wall, I hit it hard.
As previously mentioned, when progress stops, the narrative comes to a halt as well. When clickable objects don’t respond in the way they should or when something that works in the real world just doesn’t in game, it can cause real frustration. Hints aren’t present in the game (or at least they weren’t for me), and I can see this being a sticking point for some players—you can only combine every item with every contextual point so many times before giving up. I do appreciate the commitment to the mystery of the story, but I am unsure that everyone else will share that sentiment.
Frustration can lead to a strange feeling of relief when one of the random combinations or timings does work out. Although I’m sure this isn’t the intended outcome from the majority of encounters, these momentary stings of hope are often followed by a newfound clarity that leaves you asking yourself: Why was I ever stuck? This happened a couple of times during my playthrough, particularly towards the endgame, where the things you need to remember start to stack up.
12 Minutes’ stripped back cast and central point-and-click mechanics work really well and are by far the stand out points of the game. Through this, it achieves a strong sense of intimacy where you really grow attached to these characters. Directly influencing the future of all of the characters and resetting the loop simply by walking out of your flat gives you an immense sense of freedom. Sadly, 12 Minutes’ sudden fall into the absurd during the final act leaves a sour taste in my mouth.