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Twelve Minutes hands-on: A ‘Groundhog Day’-style game done right

The Groundhog Day concept feels like it’s been done to death at this point. If you’re not sure what I’m referring to, it’s the oft-used plot device where a character relives the same day over and over again. It’s become fairly prevalent in movies, but like any other storytelling feature that becomes popular, it’s been done to death. At this point, it feels like every other movie has some kind of time loop, whether it’s a comedy or an action-adventure flick. However, Twelve Minutes managed to take that idea and twist it with a wonderful narrative spin that I can’t wait to get further into.

I went hands-on with Twelve Minutes, which was heavily featured during Microsoft’s E3 showcase this year, as part of this year’s Tribeca Fest. While my demo wasn’t too long (and was plagued by issues entirely due to Parsec having problems with my second monitor), it still managed to paint a solid picture of what players can expect from the inventive indie game.

Time loop

Twelve Minutes is a top-down point-and-click title that requires players to experiment within the constraints of a 12-minute-long chunk of time that they seem to be trapped in. The game’s story revolves around a husband and wife, and the mysteries surrounding both. You fill the shoes of a nameless man who finds a celebration of his wife’s pregnancy interrupted by a police officer. From there, players are knocked out and restart the night upon entering their apartment.

Twelve Minutes Gameplay E3 2021 - 4k 60fps

Of course, things don’t always go down the same way. Experimentation with each permutation of the night is key, and Twelve Minutes wants players to be creative, or even daring. For instance, the main character is eventually restrained with plastic zip-ties and placed on the ground with no way to get out. That is, unless you took a knife off the kitchen counter, in which case you can cut the restraints off. From there, it’s up to you to confront the officer.

During my time with Twelve Minutes, I found more items that I didn’t end up using, like a cell phone in a coat pocket. I didn’t end up looking through it, and at this point, I can’t stop thinking about what I could have done with it. I’m sure more opportunities and branching paths are out there to explore, but I was only able to go through the one in my play session.

Accompanying the mystery of Twelve Minutes is an atmosphere that befits its admittedly lax point-and-click mechanics. The game oozes a kind of dreadful anticipation. Colors seem just a touch off, a storm is constantly raging outside with lightning flashing in through the lone window in your character’s apartment.

Even the game’s top-down perspective lends it a claustrophobic dread. Your character and his wife barely look comfortable in the sparsely furnished room, and I ended up sharing that emotion.

Lending to the game’s overall tone is the game’s spectacular cast of voice actors. You’ll only hear three different voices throughout all of Twelve Minutes, but they’re wonderfully recognizable. The main character is voiced by James McAvoy, while Daisy Ridley plays the part of his wife. Willem Dafoe meanwhile fills the role of the antagonistic police officer. It goes without saying that every line in this narrative-heavy game is delivered with cinema quality. Twelve Minutes isn’t just a time loop game, but more of what time loop movies or shows should aspire to be: Creative, inventive, and emotional.

Again, my time with Twelve Minutes was short (12 minutes long if you can believe it), but I was fully engrossed during the session. While the game’s main plot point of being stuck in a time loop isn’t entirely inventive, the game’s sole developer, Luis Antonio, managed to twist it in a creative fashion. After being introduced to these three completely unknown characters, I’m ready to peel back whatever mystery they’re tied up in with every jump back in time.

Twelve Minutes lands on Xbox One, Xbox One X/S, and PC on August 19. It will be available via Xbox Game Pass when it launches.

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