12 Minutes Review: An Excruciating Time Loop

Time loops have provided moviegoers with some excellent experiences over the years, but the [...]

Time loops have provided moviegoers with some excellent experiences over the years, but the concept hasn't been explored nearly as often in the world of video games. 12 Minutes from developer Luis Antonio attempts to replicate the concept of movies like Groundhog Day using a murder mystery as the time loop's focal point. On paper, it sounds like a really cool idea; unfortunately, the experience is hampered by the limits of the video game format, and that prevents it from working in a way that will make audiences feel compelled to stick with 12 Minutes through to the game's climax.

In 12 Minutes, players take on the role of a nameless husband. The main character is getting home from work late, and his wife is excited to give him some big news about their future. Unfortunately, the couple's evening is interrupted when a man claiming to be a police officer barges into their apartment while accusing the wife of murdering her father eight years ago. The officer is also obsessed with locating a missing watch. Before the husband can intervene, he's knocked unconscious, and when he wakes up, he's forced to relive the same span of time over and over again.

12 Minutes is a point-and-click game that takes place from an overhead perspective. Players look for clues around the apartment that will help them progress in subsequent attempts. The game gives players a bit of freedom to explore their surroundings, but it immediately feels like a limited experience. In the movie Palm Springs, we can see Andy Samberg's character really cut loose each day, choosing lots of different ways to explore his time loop. The biggest problem I had with 12 Minutes is that I wanted to do so much more than I could. I have a knife and a couch; why can't I tear into the thing and see if the watch is hidden inside? Why can't I hide under the pile of clothes in the closet, or start a gas leak with the stove? If you've ever seen Happy Death Day, you'll be scrambling to think of anything and everything you can do, but the game prevents those choices from becoming a reality.

Twelve-Minutes new cropped hed
(Photo: Annapurna Interactive)

The lack of options in 12 Minutes is the element that will hurt the game the most for players. By their very nature, time-loop movies have to be a bit repetitive. Movies can shake that up by letting their characters basically do anything. Once that element has been removed, the repetition is all that's left. The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask combated this by offering a big world to explore. The apartment in 12 Minutes is much more limited, with just a few small rooms to investigate, and very little time to do so. This leaves players constantly playing beat the clock to see if they can figure out the specific way the developer wants them to progress. Players have about six minutes of real time before the police officer barges into the apartment, which really isn't much time before things start up all over again.

It's a shame that the game ends up feeling so repetitive, because 12 Minutes does have some elements that work well for it. The voice acting is mostly strong, with decent performances by James McAvoy, Daisy Ridley, and Willem Dafoe. Unfortunately, it feels like there needed to be more of it. Adding to the repetitive quality of the game, no matter what happens, sometimes you end up hearing the same exchanges. At one point, I called 911 to report my wife for murdering her father. I did this in the hope that my wife's reaction would give me some kind of new clue, but she simply sat on the couch directly next to me, muttering about something else entirely.

I really wanted to like 12 Minutes. It's a compelling concept, but the game's rigid structure and lack of options make it feel less like a game about a time loop and more like a narrative adventure where I kept having to sit through "Game Over" screens because I didn't make the specific choice necessary. As a result, it feels like the most irksome elements of Capcom's Ace Attorney series, without the rewarding aspects. At times, I was genuinely surprised by the options made available to me, but far more often, I found myself feeling like the game's concept was basically just window dressing. 12 Minutes feels far too limited for its concept, and that makes the game feel like a chore far more often than not.

Rating: 2.5 out of 5

12 Minutes is available now on PC, Xbox One, and Xbox Series X|S. A code was provided by the publisher for the purpose of this review, and it was reviewed on an Xbox Series X.