Playing out like a nightmarish version of Groundhog Day, 12 Minutes is a narrative-driven indie that sees you endlessly repeat a time loop that results in your own demise. Backed by the [email protected] program, the game features a star-studded cast with James McAvoy (X-Men and Split) playing the game's central protagonist and Star Wars' Daisy Ridley providing the voice of his wife. Recently I got the exclusive opportunity to play through the opening thirty minutes of the game, and I was joined by its sole developer, Luis Antonio.
As I mentioned previously, 12 Minutes sees you caught in the middle of a time loop similar to Groundhog Day and it's up to you to repeat the same 12 minutes over and over, changing your actions until you can finally break free. The time loop starts simple as you are just enjoying a quiet evening at home with your wife, but then an intruder, a corrupt cop, breaks into your home, ties you up and then chokes you to death. You must play out the same evening again and again, but use the accumulated experience you've gained to lead to a chain of actions that ultimately enables you to escape your grizzly fate.
Something that I enjoyed about the game is just how accessible it feels. The whole game takes place within a tiny apartment, and you can interact with objects and start conversations simply by pointing and clicking. Combining and using items is also a breeze. Your inventory is displayed by moving your cursor to the top of the screen and from there you can drag items onto objects to use them and drag them on top of each other to combine them. I was only able to play the game with a mouse and keyboard, but Luis told me that using a controller is equally as straightforward as the analogue stick "emulates the mouse and keyboard" and the shoulder buttons are used for navigating the inventory.
After knowing how my fate would ultimately pan out, I decided to experiment during my playthrough to see if I could change the end result. When playing, I snatched a mobile phone hidden in the closet and tried calling the police, but the intruder instantly heard my call and proceeded to knock me down to the ground. I also found some sleeping pills within the bathroom and decided to take them before the intruder arrived, but I found out that I'd pass out without a single memory of anything that had transpired. I even tried convincing my wife that danger was on its way, but had little luck doing so, as I was yet to build up enough knowledge to convince her that I was telling the truth and wasn't crazy.
With the apartment being so small and every item having its own personal importance and impact, I was curious to know whether any items had been changed or removed during the game's testing phase. Luis revealed to me: "The meal early on was a lasagne, but with the lasagne there were forks and people wanted to use the folks to remove the cops, so I had to remove forks and put spoons so people didn't see spoons as an item to attack someone." He also mentioned that there was initially a table in the middle of the room, but he decided to remove it so that players couldn't comically run circles around it when being chased.
The game apparently was actually much larger in scope initially, but Luis eventually scaled things back to keep the story and mechanics feeling much more focused. He told me: "Very quickly I realised if the play space is too big, you cannot really know what to do. If you do something earlier on within the loop then you have no idea about the outcome of your actions, so I shrunk it." He also mentioned that a focus was then placed on the narrative by including characters that the player would empathise with and care for.
I was also curious to know how many possible solutions there were that would break the time loop. Luis mentioned: "As the game grew, I had the same question. I was like 'how do you end the game about repeating time completely?' Then I realised that I had a chance with this medium to do something that is not just credits and then over." He continued, "The conclusion of the experience is different. If you can call it a conclusion, there's going to be a moment around eight hours into the game that I think will be a conclusion for you, but the answer is not linear like you'd expect from other games or mediums."
After getting a chance to experience 12 Minutes first-hand, my expectations for the game now remain higher than ever. The gameplay feels straightforward to control and accessible, and it features a concept that I haven't really seen explored by the medium before. I can't wait to fully dive in when the game launches to start experimenting with actions and eventually find my way out of its perpetual hell. Be sure to check back for our full thoughts when 12 Minutes launches soon on PC, Xbox One, and Xbox Series.