I really wanted to like Twelve Minutes. As a genre, the point-and-click
adventure is near-and-dear to my heart, and the game’s “Groundhog Day”-inspired
story adds some novelty (like a time limit and a protagonist with a persistent
memory). The stakes were higher than my increasingly-routine “grown up gamer”
diversions because my Mom was playing alongside me; I don’t mind slogging
through the occasional dud on my own, but it’s harder to admit that you’ve
invited someone to a lackluster party. It gives me no satisfaction to say that
Twelve Minutes’ failings overshadow its strengths.
The game excels at storytelling…in some regards. Its score is exceedingly
subtle–downright gossamer–reinforcing the mundane weeknight setting and
making space for strong voice performances (full disclosure: I’m a sucker for
Willem Dafoe). The animation undercuts the cinematic flair, though. I’m forced
to draw a comparison to The Sims, but not for the obvious similarities of a
top-down perspective on a domestic setting. Twelve Minutes evokes Maxis’ 2000
title in that it really feels like you’re playing with dated tech (rather than
digital actors) as you watch the character models stumble around the apartment.
The story’s conclusion might charitably be called “ambiguous,” but it’d be more
honest to say that it’s incoherent.
Concerning gameplay, Twelve Minutes certainly offers the satisfaction of
gradual advancement through a layered puzzle–classic adventure game stuff. The
solutions are logical (if not obvious), so you’ll rarely find yourself doing
the exasperated guesswork of more cartoony entries in the
genre. Part of the
difficulty comes from an impressive number of red herrings; you can do plenty
of interesting but irrelevant things (such as flushing items down the toilet).
The game limits the worst of the repetition from the time loop by introducing
shortcuts as you and the player-character learn more about your predicament.
Trouble is, some of the scenarios which require the most experimentation are
also the ones which are the most tedious to reach, so unlocking those shortcuts
can be a chore.
The game falters even on some technical points. Between awkward drag-and-drop
and a, shall we say, distinctive right-click-activated menu, it’s
surprisingly difficult to control using a touchpad. The absence of an explicit
saving mechanism makes for a sleek introductory experience, but the sole
internal save state is disappointingly fragile. I’m happy to forgive the game
for crashing (it only happened once) but not for losing my progress and forcing
me to restart from scratch.
If I were to find myself suddenly transported back in time to the moment where
I was choosing my next game, the solution would be to skip Twelve Minutes.
I’m probably stuck with my current reality, though, so I’ll just urge you to do