12 Minutes is a time loop story that has been reduced to its essence. It is spare in length and has a small range and is almost entirely done in a one bedroom apartment. But its smallness includes a narrative and mechanical majority that is consistently rewarded during the six-twelfth hour of execution time.
When the game starts, the unnamed protagonist (voice of James McAvoy) takes the elevator to the apartment, so I say “almost completely.” The corridor between the elevator and the apartment door (eerily carpeted with autumn patterns from The Shining Overlook Hotel) serves as a quick tutorial: Navigating from a top-down perspective on the game. Learn and find fake rocks in potted plants outside In your apartment, use fake rocks to find the key inside and take that key to the door. This is a short but effective introduction to the point-and-click style mechanism shown here. 12 Minutes is mechanically rich because it leans towards this old school-like adventure that encourages creative thinking. There aren’t many things in an apartment, but the things there are often fun and amazing ways to combine.
Upon entering the apartment, the main character is greeted by his wife (Daisy Ridley). My wife prepared fake candles, prepared desserts, and wrapped up presents. It’s a romantic night, but there’s a storm just outside. The weather event (the character pays attention to when interacting with any of the windows in the apartment) is a good metaphor for the turn when a fun night begins. During dinner, a mysterious man (Willem Dafoe) appeared at the door and claimed to be the police. You can either put him in or wait for him to kick the door. No matter what you do, he will enter your apartment, tie you up with a flex cuff and kill you. Then the loop resumes and you stumble into your apartment and are warmly illuminated for that romantic supper that you will never end.
The apartment is small (as is rarely a fictitious apartment) and consists of four rooms. One serves three roles: living room, kitchen and dining room. Bedroom; bathroom; and coat closet. There are some items that may have obvious utility, such as counter knives and bottles of sleeping pills in bathroom cabinets. But most are in the intriguing gray areas. Is there any reason to study wall-framed art prints? Does this dessert exist just for eating? Can my wife’s book on meditation have a purpose other than characterization? In traditional point-and-click adventure games, these questions can easily be annoying. This is a kind of frustration that results from trying every item with every other item until something finally works. While playing 12 Minutes, I didn’t realize I was succumbing to this urge. The environment was so small, well thought out, and the loops were so short that it rarely took more than a few minutes without thinking about new things. The top-down perspective reveals a totally empty environment, small enough to feel magical, as each new layer of the story is revealed. Wait, do you have more? In this one bedroom apartment? Did I refine every corner? How?
12 Minutes is mechanically rich because it’s devoted to this old school-like adventure that encourages creative thinking.
The use of 12 minutes of lighting contributes to this sensation. At some point, the bedroom may be brightly lit. When you enter again, the room will be darkened and will have blue night tones. Later, it is bathed in an eerie red. This dynamism helps to market the idea that this small space contains many. Just as there are new shades revealed by changes in light, there are shades in this story. They are always in a 12-minute loop, but can only be found by focusing your eyesight on neglected dusty corners and tilting your head in a new direction.
McAvoy, Ridley and Dafo performances have similar shades. The celebrity line-up helped to get the attention of this indie game, but Hollywood stars didn’t feel distracted and their powerful performances imbued the game with unexpected hearts. As the protagonist, McAvoy has most of the line and he does a good job of selling the despair of his character in the face of incredible events. The story takes an amazing and disastrous turn, and McAvoy sells the emotional anguish of his protagonist, while at the same time hitting the necessary light sounds in small moments. Similarly, Ridley sells us with the shock and anger of her character, but is also playful when the script demands it. And while Dafoe believes he’s scary as a “cop,” his performance also includes a depth that slowly becomes apparent during the playthrough process. Here are the real moments of sadness and melancholy. The trio could easily feel distracting for stunt casting, but each brings a real commitment to the material.
You may have noticed that none of these letters have a name. Intruders and wives are characters, but they are also objects that play against other objects and can break the time loop. Because of this, some of the turns in the story can feel a bit unnatural, as if developer Luis Antonio was doing it with a limited number of toys in a small toy box. I’ve noticed that the three characters have so many configurations that they can take, and as a result, the game is mixed in with a shocking twist to the conclusion. That said, the landing may be a bit volatile, but the trip there is worth the trip.
Warren Spector, director of Deus Ex, says he wants to create a game that is completely focused on one block, as the small space allows for unmatched mechanical depth. 12 Minutes further reduces the scope of Spector and finds abundant veins for interaction and storytelling. This game may limit the loop to 12 minutes, but I wanted to stay much longer.