12 Minutes Makes Trial and Error Feel Rewarding
12 Minutes is a simple premise for a game but it has a way of pulling you in quickly.
Amidst of wave of new game announcements and even the appearance of Keanu Reeves during Microsoft’s E3 2019 press conference, one game that was highlighted during the showcase captured my attention in the span of just a few moments. That game was 12 Minutes, a new project from developer Luis Antonio and Annapurna Interactive that is all about a man stuck in a time loop. The trailer for 12 Minutes that debuted during E3 was arguably the best trailer that I saw all week. It does a phenomenal job of not only explaining what the game is about, but also sells you on its narrative and hooks you in, all in just barely two minutes.
Seriously, if you haven’t watched it, do that right now.
Fortunately for myself, a couple of days after this trailer debuted I was able to go hands-on with 12 Minutes, and I can report that the actual game seems just as promising as the trailer. My demo started out with my character in the elevator outside of his apartment hall. These opening moments teach you the basics of how your inventory works and how to interact with objects in the environment before you then enter your apartment and are locked-in to your own reoccurring nightmare.
Having seen the trailer already, I was already privy to the fact that a man was going to burst into my apartment and try to attack my wife and I. Seeing a knife sitting on a nearby countertop, I immediately grabbed it and stashed it in my inventory. After chatting with my wife for a few minutes, we then sat down to eat some dessert and the game played out pretty much like the trailer above shows.
A few minutes later, some pounding on the front door ensued, a man came charging into the apartment, and what do you know, he tied up my wife. I tried to fight back (if you could even do such a thing) but he then tied me up and placed me on the ground as well. Luckily, I utilized the knife I had stashed earlier to cut myself free but the anonymous attacker wasn’t a fan of this. He then shoved me back to the ground and smashed my face against the floor, either suffocating me or smashing my skull. I died.
And then right away, 12 Minutes reset and I was back to the moment in which I had just walked into my apartment. Immediately, my brain began swimming with ideas of what I needed to do next. Should I grab the knife again and try to stab the bald man as soon as he enters my apartment? Should I hide in the nearby closet and try to wait to see what he actually wants with my wife? There are a lot of routes you can take and 12 Minutes and the game really doesn’t specify any single path. It’s all up to you to decide and see what each may result in.
The route I ended up taking was trying to convince my wife that a man was about to break into our apartment. I told her that I knew this because I was stuck in a time loop and, as you might guess, she didn’t believe me. From here, I was able to interact with objects in the environment that would potentially convince my wife that I was telling the truth.
In one loop, I went into our bedroom and grabbed the present that she had previously given to me in the first loop that contained baby clothes, indicating that she was pregnant. I handed my wife the present and told her what was inside of it. She still didn’t believe me. In another loop, I told her what song would be playing on the radio at that exact moment in time. She scoffed at this attempt of proof telling me that all radio stations play the same songs on daily rotations. If only she had listened to me then she wouldn’t have been tied up in the middle of the floor mere minutes later.
One of the nice things about 12 Minutes is that as you start new loops, the game informs you to a degree of which paths you’ve already been down. With so little time to work with in each loop, this really helps you make quick decisions that are different from ones that you’ve already made — ones that clearly didn’t work. If you’re in conversation with your wife, for example, past attempts you’ve made to convince her that you’re either in a time loop or that a man is soon coming to the apartment will be greyed out, letting you know that you’ve already exhausted this route to no avail.
After my third or fourth loop had started, I decided to just try to run out of my apartment to see what would happen. Of course, the second I walked out my front door, the time loop reset and I ended back up in my apartment. Luis Antonio, who was present and taking notes while I played this demo, laughed and told me that not many people try to just run out of the apartment like this. It’s clear that Antonio has thought about a variety of different permutations and has appropriately planned for anything wild that players might do.
Another aspect of 12 Minutes that seems very helpful is the fact that you can quickly skip through conversations and such that you may have already had in a past loop. 12 Minutes plays out in real-time meaning that each sequence will take 12 real minutes, assuming you can last that long. Rather than having to monotonously hear the same dialogue over and over that you might become accustomed to by the time you’ve reached your hundredth loop, there’s a skip button that speeds past certain conversations, while also making sure to add the real-time it’d normally take to listen to that conversation to your 12 minute clock in-game. Basically, just because you can skip through dialogue doesn’t mean that you’ll gain more time to work with to break out of your time loop hell.
I was only able to try out maybe five different loops or so before the time in my demo ran out. I had barely figured anything out within 12 Minutes, but I was already so sold on this idea of trying to figure out how to break out of this repeating sequence. Antonio told me that he expects the full game to take somewhere around six hours or so to see through to completion, which seems just about right to me. Coming into E3 2019, I wasn’t really aware of 12 Minutes’ existence, but leaving the show, it’s easily one of the more intriguing games, AAA or otherwise, that I’m looking forward to in the future.
12 Minutes still doesn’t have a release date, but it’s slated to arrive on Xbox One and PC upon launch.