12 Minutes Is Like a Dramatic Stage Play With A-List Actors

I was smitten with writer-director Luis Antonio’s time-loop drama 12 Minutes from the moment it first appeared during Xbox’s E3 2019 press conference, after which it was one of the most-talked-about surprises of the show. Playing it then only reinforced my enthusiasm. It’s no wonder that the noted and trusted tastemakers at publisher Annapurna picked it up, and thankfully it’s now due for release on Xbox platforms and PC “soon.”

I played a recent, seemingly near-final build of 12 Minutes (via Parsec on PC), and while I have plenty of new compliments to lob at it in a moment, I’ll start with the same faux-complaint I had the first time: I didn’t have nearly enough time to dig into it! Both my 2019 hands-on and my latest one were under 30 minutes each, which meant that I got to do a few loops and dig into the murder mystery, and then my time was up. This time, as before, I walked away from my time with 12 Minutes and couldn’t stop thinking about it. Where is it going? How is it going to resolve? Who killed the wife’s father?

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But I’m getting ahead of myself. Twelve Minutes is, at first glance, extremely simple. It takes place entirely in a married couple’s apartment, with the camera looking down on them from above. You play the husband (voiced by James McAvoy), who arrives home, starts talking to his wife (played by Daisy Ridley), sits down for a special dessert to celebrate some good news your wife has to share, and then…there’s a knock on the door. It’s a cop (Willem Dafoe) who barges in, zip-ties the wife’s hands behind her back and accuses her of murdering her father years before, and then does the same to the husband and ultimately chokes you to death.

Except then you wake up. It’s a time loop. And the game begins. You must figure out why this is happening and how to stop it. The apartment is small; there’s your kitchen/living room, your bedroom, your bathroom, and a small closet attached to the living room. Nowhere to hide. Nowhere to run.

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So on my second loop, I tried telling my wife what happened. About the time loop and the cop. I tried to prove it to her, but, even after preemptively grabbing the present she was going to surprise me with from her bedroom drawer, it wasn’t proof enough. She answered the door, the cop came in, and I suffered the same asphyxiated fate, only to wake up 12 minutes earlier to start again.

The next time, I searched the apartment and ignored my wife’s plea to sit down for dessert. I grabbed a knife from the kitchen. The knock came again, and this time I tried to use the knife on the cop, only for him to disarm me and, yet again, kill me. On my final run, I hid in the closet with her phone and tried to call the police by dialing 911, but as they dispatched an officer it was too late — the cop found me and the loop ended the same way it always had.

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Twelve Minutes fascinated me on its core concept alone two years ago, but as it nears the finish line in 2021, it’s looking and sounding much better. The casting of three Hollywood veterans injects all of the dialogue with the necessary gravity and drama it demands. “We’re relying on animation and voice acting to make you believe the characters are alive,” Antonio says, while the graphics have been cleaned up such that the game looks a lot more polished now.

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Gameplay-wise, unlike traditional roguelikes, Antonio calls 12 Minutes “a tailored one-off experience” that should last 6-8 hours, though “the way you go about getting the knowledge [needed to solve the mystery] should be different for each person,” he says. It’s obviously part point-and-click adventure game, too, thanks to the inventory management that’s vital to solving the mystery.

I cannot wait to sit down with 12 Minutes for an extended chunk of time so that I can really start to peel back its many narrative layers. It’s on track to be the video game equivalent of a riveting three-actor stage play, which is something we rarely, if ever, get in our medium.

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Ryan McCaffrey is IGN’s Executive Editor of Previews. Follow him on Twitter at @DMC_Ryan, catch him on Unlocked, and drop-ship him Taylor Ham sandwiches from New Jersey whenever possible.

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