The time loop isn’t a new trope. All the way back in the 1940s stories were being told about people stuck living the same stretch of time over and over again. The hook has changed between productions, but the general idea is the same. Despite all that, 12 Minutes still feels incredibly unique and out of all the games I’ve seen at E3 2019 so far, there are few I’m as excited to play.
I had a chance to sit down with 12 Minutes creator Luis Antonio and check out an alpha build of the game. Luis previously worked on The Witness, providing art, and he began developing 12 Minutes after that game was released. He worked on it on his own for a few years before Annapurna picked it up, and even now, around five years after he started working on it, I could still feel he is brimming with enthusiasm.
I can definitely see why Luis is so passionate about 12 Minutes. It’s smart, and it packs an absolutely huge amount of narrative and gameplay complexity into a seemingly simple setting. In 12 Minutes, you’re a man who just got home from work. Your wife surprises you with the news that she’s pregnant over dinner by giving you a present containing baby clothes. The good news (or bad news depending on what dialogue you choose) is barely out of her lips before there’s a knock on the door. A voice yells out from behind the entry to your apartment that it’s the police. They apparently have a warrant for your wife’s arrest. She’s supposedly murdered her father.
No matter what decision you make at this point, a man breaks down the door. He’s violent, and he’s not here to arrest your wife. He’s here to kill her and you. When you die, you wake up at the exact moment you entered your apartment initially.
What makes 12 Minutes so unique is that it’s built like a well. The surface area is small: the game takes place in your apartment. There’s only a living room/kitchen/dining area, a bedroom, and a bathroom. These three rooms and their contents are all you have to work with. Every time you die, the world resets back to the way it was. However, you remember everything that happened every loop. This means you can gradually start to change your future.
During the gameplay I previewed, I got to see the first loop as described above. On the next loop, though, the protagonist was able to start changing things, if ever so slightly. Since you now know what is in the gift, you can try and convince your wife of the danger by revealing its contents and telling her that you know what is going to happen. However, that won’t be enough to convince her, only make her wary.
The second loop we didn’t make much more progress than the first. Our wife didn’t immediately open the door, and we were able to lock it. However, the man burst down the door, decked our wife, and then choked us to death.
The crux of the game is to find out if our wife is a murderer, who the man at the door is, and why you’re going through a time loop. What furthers the intrigue is that you’re a lot freer to use your inventory than in most adventure games. Found a knife in the kitchen? You can do the obvious thing and try to use it on the man at the door, or you can go in the opposite direction and stab your wife.
The beauty in this freedom is that there’s no wrong answer. The loop just starts over. One thing Luis said about the game that stood out is that there won’t be a traditional ending. While there’ll be credits and he believes players will reach a point where they’re “done,” 12 Minutes will continue to take you down the rabbit hole.
I only got to spend around 30 minutes with Luis and 12 Minutes, but it made an impression. It’ll be out in 2020 on Xbox One (as part of [email protected]) and PC, and I can’t wait to find out more about the mystery of a man, his wife, a man in a black suit and the 12 Minutes that bring them together over and over again.