You’re happily living in a cramped one-bedroom apartment with your wife.
Moments before she tells you she’s pregnant, a strange man knocks on your door. He claims your wife killed his father years ago and decides to slay her as vengeance. All of this happens in only 12 minutes in Annapurna Interactive’s new video game, aptly titled 12 Minutes. Then, the timeline is reset, returning you to minutes before your wife’s murder. You need to play through numerous cycles to try and undo this horrifying event.
Annapurna Interactive has built its brand on translating cinematic experiences into video games. Kentucky Route Zero evokes the films of David Lynch to explore a rural mystery. Telling Lies transplants modern computer-based horror-thrillers like Searching and Spree. With 12 Minutes, Annapurna takes on claustrophobic thrillers like Perfect Blue and Rear Window.
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Inverse played through one cycle of 12 Minutes as part of a Tribeca Games preview. Despite the short timeframe and confined setting, 12 Minutes holds endless possibilities.
Prior to the killer’s arrival, the game has you complete household requests from your wife, like setting the table, as a way to familiarize you with the controls. I knew about the premise of 12 Minutes before the demo, and I wanted to test the game’s limits.
So I stabbed my wife.
Being able to murder your spouse is a bold choice from the developers since it’s clear all along that the ultimate goal of 12 Minutes is to save her. Making the complete opposite a possibility downright provocative, and left me raring to play more.
Where do your options end? Perhaps some items in that cramped apartment will lead you to a different outcome, or offer greater insight into the killer’s motives? 12 Minutes transcends the thriller label to make a robust sandbox experience of a single encounter.
The best thing about 12 Minutes is that bite-sized gameplay loop. Lengthy choice-based games like Mass Effect can prompt you to search for videos of alternate choices on YouTube, rather than replaying a 20+ hour campaign. It’s easy and appealing to redo everything here.
It helps that 12 Minutes’ cast is brimming with talent. The playable character is voiced by James McAvoy (Split, X-Men: First Class), his wife is portrayed by Daisy Ridley (Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Murder on the Orient Express), and the killer is voiced by Willem Dafoe (Spider-Man, The Lighthouse). Dafoe was a highlight in his previous game appearance, Beyond Two Souls, and it’s exciting to imagine what he can achieve with a better script.
The final game will provide numerous iterations of how the scene might pan out over the span of 12 minutes. According to the developer, 12 Minutes takes between eight and 20 hours to complete. Sure, you might be confined to a tiny apartment, but that apartment is filled with opportunities over the course of dozens of cycles.
What will be the choice that changes everything? I can’t wait to find out.