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Twelve Minutes Review: A Star-Studded, Intense Mindbender

Although the idea of a time loop is hardly new, it's something that video games have been able to utilize impressively over the years. High profile examples like The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask have become classics of gaming history, while roguelike shooter Returnal stands as a strong part of the PS5's lineup. Now Xbox and PC players have a time loop game of their own, thanks to Twelve Minutes from developer Luis Antonio and publisher Annapurna Interactive.

Twelve Minutes is the story of a man returning home to his apartment for a romantic evening with his wife. However, an intruder forces their way into the apartment, accusing the wife of murder before killing the husband. This isn't the end of the tale, however, as the man loops back to twelve minutes in the past to relive those events, maintaining his memory of what happened.

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As a central gimmick, this twelve minute loop is fantastic. Twelve Minutes has been extremely well-crafted, and the player has a truly ingenious number of potential options on how to solve this in media res murder mystery. There are only a handful of items in the tiny apartment, and only three rooms, but the variety comes from how the player uses the objects around them and how these options change as the player gains more context.

Twelve Minutes feels closest in genre to the adventure games of LucasArts, although the time pressure means that the languid pacing of those landmark titles is nowhere to be found. The game is extremely well-structured, with the player keeping track of their internal clock, thinking about the long-term narrative implications of their discoveries, and trying to find out new information before the intruder arrives. Twelve Minutes plays quite unlike anything else, although some users may find it frustrating if they get stuck at certain points.

Although Twelve Minutes has the tightly-packed design of an indie game, it gained some major names in its cast in the form of James McAvoy, Daisy Ridley, and Willem Dafoe. A lot of weight was on the trio's shoulders to provide strong performances, and thankfully they deliver. The characters change drastically as the player unravels more of the plot, and the cast is more than up to the task of shifting emotion within seconds, making the game all the more intense.

The dialogue is also strong, although not quite as spectacular as the performances attached to it. This is in part down to the nature of the game, as although Twelve Minutes can feel free-flowing and reactive to the player's options at times, it's not at the level of standout examples of natural dialogue like Oxenfree. It can sometimes be a bit stilted in terms of both its dialogue and also when it comes to character animations, something that was noted in early previews.

The term ludonarrative dissonance has been overused at times, but it is something that can be jarring in Twelve Minutes. The tense situation, as well as specific serious and emotional events, can be undermined if the player so chooses, and this can have awkward side effects. As one example, one loop could see the player drugging their wife, electrocuting, handcuffing, shooting, and then stabbing a man to death, before sitting down at the dining table to eat a delicious fondant au chocolat as their character exclaims "oh this is good" in delight.

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It's also worth noting that the plot of Twelve Minutes does get quite convoluted as it reaches its finale. There needed to be some level of grounding given the existential nightmare of the time loop, but unfortunately its story eventually gets a little bit lost thanks to a few too many twists. For the most part Twelve Minutes remains a compelling Hitchcockian yarn, particularly when pulling the rug out from under the player just as they feel they might have solved the puzzle, but it does wear out its welcome a little.

This means that Twelve Minutes is an ambitious and impressive game that isn't quite perfect. For the majority of its runtime Twelve Minutes is a delight, with its engaging premise and unique gameplay making the player lose track of those never-ending loops, but it does peter out towards the end. That said, the journey to reach this end point is very strong, and since the game is available on Game Pass it's a must-play for those who have the service.

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Twelve Minutes releases 19 August 2021 for PC, Xbox One, and Xbox Series X/S. Screen Rant was provided with a PC download code for the purposes of this review.

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