12 Minutes hands-on: A detail-oriented time-loop thriller that's equal parts frustrating and rewarding

Daisy Ridley, James McAvoy and Willem Dafoe lend their voices to the new mystery game for Xbox and Steam.

Shelby Brown Editor II
Shelby Brown (she/her/hers) is an editor for CNET's services team. She covers tips and tricks for apps, operating systems and devices, as well as mobile gaming and Apple Arcade news. Shelby also oversees Tech Tips coverage. Before joining CNET, she covered app news for Download.com and served as a freelancer for Louisville.com.
  • She received the Renau Writing Scholarship in 2016 from the University of Louisville's communication department.
Shelby Brown
4 min read

Twelve Minutes is a new game from Annapurna Interactive starring Daisy Ridley, James McAvoy and Willem Dafoe.

Annapurna Interactive

12 Minutes, a dark thriller game featuring the voice acting of Daisy Ridley (Star Wars), James McAvoy (X-Men) and Willem Dafoe (Spider-Man, 2002), is out now for Xbox and Steam. The interactive, point-and-click mystery from Annapurna Interactive and Luis Antonio tells the story of a couple's life turned upside down by a violent home invasion.

The game kicks off during what should've been a romantic date night, when a police officer breaks into your home, accuses your wife of murdering her father and kills you. Seconds later, you find yourself gasping for air at the apartment's front door. Time has reset and you're about to relive the horrific 12 minutes again. And again. 

As a fan of point-and-click mystery games, I was immediately caught up in 12 Minutes. From the start, the game stands apart with a distinct, minimalist design. The whole game takes place in the couple's small apartment, and the player has a bird's-eye view of all the action throughout the game. 


When the time loop resets, what will you do differently to solve the mystery and survive?

Annapurna Interactive

12 Minutes is all about gathering clues and information to change the night's outcome and break out of the time loop. After each reset, your character retains the memory of everything that happened. Meanwhile, your wife doesn't remember the break in and is still in date-night mode. As a player, I immediately felt the weight of the ticking clock and the desperation to get my wife to believe me and find something in the apartment to help fight back before the next break-in. 

Read more: Annapurna Interactive hosts first showcase: 10 indie games coming soon to console, mobile and PC

Almost everything is clickable and viewable, and many things can go in your inventory and be combined with other objects. You have to figure out what items to use and what questions to ask. The game's minimalist design is deceptive -- at first it was comforting that the game only exists in the apartment (the loop resets if you try to leave) and there are only a few rooms to explore. But as the game went on, it was almost maddening to be in such a small space with so many possibilities available. In addition, the lags and glitches in the preview build made it difficult to progress through the story at times.

Thankfully, 12 Minutes features a fast-forward option for dialogue -- hearing the same conversation gets tedious. But when you find a new branch in the story, clue, item that you can use, or when you unlock new dialogue? The feeling is a rush of accomplishment and reward. Depending on where you are in the story, it can be a short-lived feeling. The clock is always ticking and you must think ahead. 

My initial instinct when playing was to be the good guy -- protect my wife, talk the cop down, etc. I've been forced to make tough calls in choice-based games before, but the time-loop aspect of 12 Minutes is a fresh take on straying from the straight and narrow. After multiple resets, I realized that sometimes waiting, watching and listening provided more information than trying to act fast. It was tedious to have to keep "proving" the time loop to my wife, but the promise of possibly finding something new this time around meant I couldn't quit playing. 


Even if you survive the break in, dark secrets may tear you apart. 

Annapurna Interactive

"If you know what's going to happen, what are you going to do about it?," Antonio, the game's director, asked CNET ahead of the game's release. 12 Minutes' design plays off the way when a character dies in a traditional video game, they're sent back to the start of a level -- or the last save point -- to get another shot. And while the players might know what's coming after those save points, the characters in the game typically don't remember their death or errors.

"What's interesting for me is the other side of knowledge about other people and situations and how we interpret those situations," Antonio said. "All these things are happening and the game isn't really telling you what you should or shouldn't be doing, so you can interpret what's happening. There's clearly something for you to react to as you learn more." 


12 Minutes creator Luis Antonio says that the key to unraveling the mystery and breaking out of the time loop is acquired knowledge. 

Annapurna Interactive

While Antonio took a minimalist design approach, the characters and story are far more complex. As a player, the development team and star-studded cast succeeded in creating characters I invested in. As the events unfolded, I couldn't help but wonder what the future held for the couple -- voiced by Ridley and McAvoy. What if the wife did murder her father? Would the marriage survive such an accusation even if she appears innocent? And even after multiple encounters with the intruder -- voiced by Dafoe -- I felt a twinge of fear every time I heard him pound on the door.

Even though 12 Minutes is a mystery thriller, Antonio wanted to make the game accessible as well as thought-provoking for players, noting indie games like Papers, Please and Florence as inspirations. 

"I think it's time that this [video game] industry grows out of shooting, killing, points and scoring," Antonio said. "It's great to have that, but [the industry] needs to grow in other directions like the other mediums have done." 

12 Minutes is now available on Xbox for $25 and Steam for $22.50. Check out the launch trailer below: