The first thing you notice about Twelve Minutes is the familiar voices. "Is that..." you'll ask yourself, and yes it is. The three characters are voiced by James McAvoy, Daisy Ridley, and Willem Dafoe. What's even more impressive than the A-list lineup is that after a hands-on with the game, that started to feel like the least interesting thing about it.
Twelve Minutes is best described as a time loop thriller, all taking place in a cramped apartment – one main room, one bedroom, one bathroom, and a closet – and featuring a young couple and a sinister cop. The cop turns up, tries to arrest your wife, and when you intervene you end up unconscious. Then the whole 12 minutes where that took place starts again, but you're the only one with any memory of the previous loop. Do you try to prove to your wife that you know what's going to happen? Look for a weapon? Try and make your own call to the police before your unwanted visitor even arrives?
"I wanted to explore this idea of accumulated knowledge," explains the game's creator, Luis Antonio. "If you repeat a moment you've lived before and you know what's going to happen, is that interesting in terms of gameplay?"
Name that tune
I got to play through a few loops, and tried talking it out first, annoying my wife by predicting what she'd made for dinner, what would play on the radio, before freaking her out by guessing what was in a wrapped gift hidden in a bedroom drawer. It made no difference by the time the cop showed up though, by the time she was starting to believe me he was already at the door, and this time he tied my wrists with plastic zip ties. As that time loop ended, I noticed a kitchen knife on the table, perfect for cutting through, say, wrist restraints? I tried it, and needless to say, it wasn't the answer to the whole mystery.
Every time loop you notice something different, and the unfortunate reset means you can feel free to experiment. Little tip – if you're trying to drug someone's drinking with sleeping tablets, don't do it right in front of them.
"Early on it was a city and you would go to work, it was 24 hours, you come back from work, something happens to your family, and then you try to fix it," Antonio explains about his initial plan for the project.
"Then I realized the more complex the environment is, the harder it is to understand the consequences of your actions. So I started to shrink things, to simplify them, and actually, that makes the game more interesting because there's really quick feedback to what you're trying to do. So slowly this became this intimate experience with the husband and the wife and the intruder. But early on, I had no idea what this would be."
That intimate experience really comes alive through the investment in voice acting, from Dafoe's stern orders to Ridley's shock, confusion, and suspicion.
"They're super talented, so having this level of skill would allow us to get a lot of nuance in the performance and really feel what the characters are going through just through their voices because you don't really see their faces, so we don't have any facial expressions."
Twelve Minutes is being published by Annapurna Interactive, and its connection to Annapurna Pictures – the company behind movies like Booksmart, Hustlers, and Sorry To Bother You – helped open some doors. Some, like McAvoy, had never worked on a game before, while Dafoe was worried the process would involve him sitting alone in a booth, recording random lines for Antonio to stitch together. "But the plan was really to have them work together and bounce off each other as they have the interactions," he says.
Mr. Nice Guy
After he'd seen me trying, unsuccessfully, to drug my wife, I asked Antonio if anything about the way people responded to the time loop challenge had surprised him.
"Almost nobody does anything that would harm the wife, even though sometimes it would be beneficial, at some points. Very clearly people – even when you have all this information you can ask her about – people are always very delicate with her, and that's great, because you don't have to be.
"With most people, I'm always surprised how they get into the story and they try to go through the dinner, they try to be the husband and follow through with whatever the night was supposed to be for them as a couple."
Despite the attempted drugging, I understood people's reactions. The domestic setting, the dialogue, the voice acting, all made me want to do the right thing, to make kind choices about what I said to my wife, to try and protect her from the intruder, to be a good husband, and set the table. While Twelve Minutes is built around an addictive central core of time loop puzzle solving, it also manages to get under your skin after just a few attempts to save the day. I can't wait to dive back into the mystery and figure out what the hell is going on, and if there's any way to use a dessert as an essential item.
Twelve Minutes will be released on PC and Xbox Series X soon.