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The line between movies and games has continued to narrow through the years, and that is no more evident than in 12 Minutes, the latest release from publisher Annapurna Interactive. Taking place in a single apartment, and featuring voice-acting from multiple Hollywood icons, 12 Minutes presents a very unique experience in the modern gaming industry, and one almost solely focused on narrative.
The title originally premiered in 2015, but it wasn’t until Xbox’s E3 conference in 2019 that 12 Minutes began to receive mainstream focus. Since then, designer Luis Antonio , and a very small team of development support, have had the heavy eyes of expectation placed among them.
Luis reportedly drew inspiration from directors Kubrick, Hitchcock, and Fincher, as he looked to create a true, psychological thriller. The game’s key art even pays homage to classics of their respective eras. So, does the journey deliver to that end?
12 Minutes begins simply enough. You arrive in your apartment building, come out of the elevator, and head to your front door. Keen eyes will immediately notice the carpeting, which is pulled directly from Stanley Kubrick’s version of the Overlook Hotel in The Shining. As a big fan of that movie, I appreciated the Easter egg and was immediately engaged. Then, after a very quick control tutorial to get into your apartment, you are greeted by your wife. She’s happy to see you and says she has a surprise. Let the games begin.
From here, the game is very similar to a classic point-and-click adventure title. You have a cursor that is used to move your character and interact with items throughout the apartment. You can also click on your wife to converse with her at any point. To progress, you need to experiment by choosing different conversation paths and introducing new items to the mix. But move fast, because you only have a short period of time until an event occurs that sets you back to the beginning of the loop.
What I found most engaging about 12 Minutes, is the sheer variety of sequences you can work through and the game’s responses to them. Early on you find yourself asking “I wonder if I can do this?” Often times the answer is yes, and that then opens up new ideas in your head. This sense of curiosity, and the will to find new conversation points or information, is one of the strongest aspects of the game and can be very rewarding. Creativity and experimentation are the name of the game, and 12 Minutes certainly forces you to think outside of the box frequently.
However, there are also times where you’ll hit a wall and be unsure of what the next step is that leads to progress. Given the time loop, and having to repeat certain actions over and over, there are times where it felt monotonous. This aspect was likely a difficult line to walk for the developers. Due to the game’s design, they had to find a balance between guiding players to the next step, while not being too blatant about it. Personally, I grew up with the classic Sierra games of the 80s, so I felt right at home. But I could see some struggling with progress.
There are also a few moments here and there where conversation choices and/or actions seem to briefly conflict. It’s not a large detractor, but it can be a reminder that in the end, there are still paths you need to follow.
The journey itself is engaging and full of twists and turns you don’t see coming. It’s well-written and again, more reminiscent of the type of story you would find in a short film. Performances by James McAvoy, Daisy Ridley, and Willem DaFoe impress as you would expect, and deliver the weight needed behind the characters in a game of this nature. The final, and largest, twist in the game comes right at the end. Frankly, I could have done without it but at the same time, I don’t think it was truly detrimental.
By the time the credits rolled, I sat back and reflected on the overall journey. It was well-crafted, intriguing, and unique. I’ve repeatedly stressed that the latter is important for the gaming industry, and in that vein, 12 Minutes delivers in spades. I even shared the game with my wife who, while not a gamer, was intrigued by the concept and sat next to me plotting out things to try in different loops. Such is the ability of new experiences to transcend normal gaming boundaries.
I really enjoyed my time with 12 Minutes. While it’s not without flaws, it presented an experience I won’t soon forget. As the gaming industry expands and evolves, it’s fantastic to see developers experimenting with new types of titles. Even if you need some assistance along the way, 12 Minutes is still worth a playthrough to see how the game delivers the narrative (even if it’s not as rewarding in my opinion). More than anything I hope we continue to see developers experiment in this way!
Lastly, stay tuned for our interview with Luis Antonio premiering on our YouTube channel on Tuesday (August 24th)!
Final Verdict : 7.5
Fun factor: 7
Technical prowess: 6
Time investment: 4-8 hours
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Additionally, Ainsley Bowden recently sat down with Luis Antonio to discuss his history in the industry, the idea for 12 Minutes, working with Xbox and Annapurna, and much more. Find it below!
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