Review: 12 Minutes
Ever since it was announced, 12 Minutes has looked extremely interesting and unique, much due to its concept as well as type of gameplay, but also the seemingly mysterious story. I received early access to this game earlier and has since played many, many hours of it; taking part of countless amounts of "endings", possibilities and outcomes during the 12 minute time loop that the game is all about - the question is, though, does it all work well in actual gameplay? Well, you're in for a good one, folks. Note: I'll be trying my best to not spoil any highly important details regarding the story.
Platform: Xbox Series X (also tested on Xbox Series S and Xbox One S).
Visuals & performance
Before we begin, let me just explain that 12 Minutes is played in a top-down perspective and everything (well, 95% of it) takes place in an apartment. Despite this obviously "simple" level design choice, the game is very well made in terms of visuals, and saw me at many times baffled of what I was looking at. First of all, the lighting is used in a brilliant and gorgeous way that really helps set the tone of the game, while not only being 100% accurate and volumetric, but also the most important visual asset. The art style itself is just on point - it's not trying to be ultra realistic, yet it's also at the same time highly artistic and it almost felt like I was watching a painting at times.
While the characters, or even anything else for that matter, of 12 Minutes aren't fully meant to be looked at up-close (except for when I'm literally looking at something up-close), it's super clear that there's a ton of detail everywhere; the apartment itself, the character models, objects, the rain that covers the windows, and even something as "unimportant" as a light switch. It's quite simply a very aesthetically pleasing experience - which is also thanks to the superb shadow work, the load times that are instant, the terrificly well made effects such as blood & sparks, and of course, the textures in general. For me, however, the one thing totally sold the game to me, is the audio design and how UTTERLY extremely perfectly it was all put together.
I'm not lying when I'm saying that this game has some of the best voiceover performances that I've heard in a game, and that's actually just the short story. The long story is not only that Willem Dafoe, Daisy Ridley and James McAvoy all contributed with intensely & purely fantastic work from beginning to end, but also that it's so ridiculously believable & authentic, practically transforming it into a very high-quality interactive movie, one that even continues by adding ominous & creepy cues, though also marvelous background audio that includes but isn't limited to the vehicles outside, thunder & rain, people walking around in other flats nearby, and the sounds that the elevator does, all helping in creating a very believable enviroment.
It's all just...so, so good. This whole ordeal runs 100% solid on an Xbox Series X in native 4K at 60fps, where the same goes for the Xbox Series S version but in 1440p, while even looking and running splendid on an Xbox One S in 1080p at 30fps.
Now, the story. The fricking story. I'll say immedietly that I wasn't ready for it in any way, nor was I expecting it to get so deep or even long. I remember thinking to myself initially before playing that 12 Minutes was going to, mainly at least, be some kind of straight-forward experiment set in an apartment, but boy was I wrong. It's so much deeper than that. The story begins with our fellow protagonist arriving at his home during a seemingly normal evening, where he's first tasked with opening the front door by finding a key under a fake rock. Obviously tired, he enters the flat, only to be greeted by his wife being in the bathroom, and the apartment all dark.
He begins letting her know that he's home, and she shortly after gets out of the bathroom, kissing him as well as mentioning that she's prepared dessert for the evening, whenever he's ready. After messing about with stuff in the flat, I decide to tell her that I'm ready for dessert. At this point, I'm very unaware of things to come, excluding the fact that I know only of there being someone on their way here. That's it. Some time pass by, and we're now sitting by the table, eating. The wife reveals something that'll change their future, but it doesn't take long for everything to get interrupted by a man outside claiming to be a police and that he's got a warrant.
The wife opens the door and is apprehended, followed by me being the same. We're now both lying on the ground, as the cop is explaining the situation - he's arresting my wife for a murder that happened 8 years ago. That's not all, though, he's also looking for some type of watch. I get on my feet despite being handcuffed, only to be punched by the cop...and that's when it happened. The loop. I'm now back when I first entered the place, fully confused both in-game and in real life, but packing with knowledge of what's to come, at least to some extent.
This is what 12 Minutes is all about: a 12 minute long duration that loops back in case killed, punched, or if I leave. It's so much more than that, however, as the story goes way back, namely 8 years. Yes, it's all connected in a big way, and involves the wife's mysterious past. It's now up to the husband to take advantage of the past, the future and the present in order to find out more of who the cop is, what the wife's been a part of, and ultimately, if he himself has anything to do with it. I don't want to reveal too much, since it's one of the most interesting plots I've seen in a game, but there is one moment, one gut-wrenching moment that I'll never forget.
It's the one point of the game that truly made me realize that I was playing a perfectly well made videogame in every imaginable way. The whole story is executed in a way that made me feel so many emotions; sadness, anger, laughter, joy, but most commonly, fear. There's plot twists & realizations throughout that blend so well with the story, and when it all comes together, I'm met with quite basically a world-class telling of a superb master fricking piece of an interactive story that will be with me for eternity. There's a ton of different outcomes & "endings" that I've seen happen, and just how dynamic as well as altered a loop can be, is by its own, amazing.
12 Minutes is at its core a point and click game, but not an ordinary one. It's highly interactive, and I have to tell you, I'm not really a fan of point and click games. They're almost literally the only type of games that I don't really fancy. 12 Minutes, though, with the way it takes the whole genre and makes it go sky high? Every hour of the day, please.
From the moment I step out of the elevator at the beginning, I'm able to fully control our mysterious protagonist, and from that point on, I'll be able to interact with almost anything - the sink, the toilet and its flushing ability, mugs, paintings, light switches, doors, windows, ability to sit down, and a lot more. All this is vital in figuring out what's going on and why the loop is even happening in the first place. For example, when the cop arrives, one outcome could be that I just simply grab the kitchen knife by the counter, walk towards him and try killing him.
Does that actually work, you may ask? Loop. Yep. Trust me, it's not that easy; I've tried pretty much every possible scenario; I know it all, and there's SO many of them. One aspect of the game that I really liked is that through all these loops, James McAvoy was able to put a slight sense of comedy in there - as some of the moments where he has to start over, lets out hilarious comments out of him like "Aaahaahh, fuck you", and similar lines. 12 Minutes is a process that'll take a lot of thinking to get through, and while there is a lot of freedom, that doesn't mean that every thing will make you progress.
For instance at one point, I managed to actually overcome the cop (in a way that made me lose my shit when it happened), grab his cellphone and look through his texts. One of the numbers on there pointed to a health insurance company, but it didn't take long for the cop to wake up again, kicking the bathroom door in and killing me. Loop. Digging deep through different scenarios, via many, many conversations, is the norm in 12 Minutes. It's so dynamic, and will sometimes mean that some conversations are altered based on what you do.
One scenario saw me deciding to dance with the wife, and then all of a sudden confront her with some really messed up truth, which resulted in a similar line to: "You dance with me, and then this?". Further more, exploring different outcomes in all of the many loops is key - maybe I decide to hide in the closet and call a certain person, before the wife even realizes I'm home? Or, I lock the door, explain & prove to the wife what's going, and then wait the cop out.
What if I maybe try and talk to the cop after discovering some valuable information? I've looped back so many times during this game, but it never got boring or stale, as there was always something new to discover, be it a new conversation, a new outcome or just a new object I may have missed somewhere to interact with. I've enjoyed every second I've spent in this game, and it managed to extremely exceed my expectations.
All in all
12 Minutes is one of the best games I've ever played, at least in the most recent years. It successfully blends highly interactive and cinematic gameplay with 4K/60 visuals as well voice performances from Willem, Daisy and James that are just brilliantly wełl done. Offering at least 10-15 hours of a loop-filled, twisting and intense story, it's nothing short of literally being a masterpiece of a game. The loop gameplay, and knowing ahead of time what is going to happen, is really interesting to experience and take part in. I think Luis Antonio is a genius and that everyone needs to play this - I recommend it fully!
12 Minutes is available digitally on August 19th through the Microsoft Store for Xbox One and Xbox Series X|S, priced at $25, while also being available on Xbox Game Pass.
This review is written by Jesper Ingemansson and is based on his honest opinion about the game.
A review code was provided by Annapurna Interactive for review purposes.