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Twelve Minutes review: an intriguing setup and A-list cast let down by jaw-dropping misogyny

Ed Nightingale August 24, 2021
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Twelve Minutes

Twelve Minutes. (Annapurna Interactive)

You’ve only got twelve minutes to save your wife from a cop who invades your home. Except, you’re stuck in a time loop, doomed to endlessly repeat this shocking encounter.

That’s the premise behind Twelve Minutes, a new point-and-click adventure title from publisher Annapurna Interactive. And it’s a sound premise that merges the thrill of cinema with the interactivity of gaming… at least to begin with.

As you repeat each cycle of the time loop, you learn more about yourself, your wife and the mysterious cop – information you take with you and use the next time. Loop after loop you slowly unravel this murder mystery. 

The star-studded cast comprises James McAvoy, Daisy Ridley and Willem Defoe, who bring acting heft to their respective roles.

The problem with the game, though, is how much it relies on manipulation and misogyny, coupled with a gross twist ending intended purely to shock.

Major spoilers for Twelve Minutes follow.

Manipulation is somewhat expected for this type of game. Leave the game alone and events will play out a certain way. Interact with the people and the environment and you’ll change its course to uncover new information. So far, so adventure game.

Much of that manipulation, though, is centred on your in-game wife. Inevitably she will open the door to the cop, spelling your doom. So how can you stop her, or save yourself?

For the latter, you can simply hide in the closet before the cop bursts in and accuses your wife of being a murderer – the game’s first shocking twist. The cop will then tie up your wife and repeatedly kick her, as you simply watch on helplessly from behind a door.

Oh, and your wife is pregnant. She just hasn’t told you yet.

Twelve Minutes
Twelve Minutes. (Annapurna Interactive)

So you want to stop her from opening the door to the cop. Initially the only way to do this is to play the deceptive husband and drug her by pouring sleeping pills into her cup.

What’s worse, because of the time loop you’re expected to do this multiple times in order to detect variations in the outcome. There could have been interesting choice-based gameplay where different options eventually result in the same outcome. Instead, there’s seemingly only one route to the game’s conclusion.

To get there, you’re expected to repeatedly do horrible things to your wife.

Which brings us to the big twist of the game. It turns out that your wife isn’t a murderer, you are. Moreover, your wife is also your sister. And she’s pregnant. With your child.

That’s right, this murder mystery simulator is all about incest.

It quickly becomes clear that what was initially an intriguing narrative setup all revolves around this shock twist, intended purely to disgust its audience. This is Shyamalan level storytelling that doesn’t interrogate its subject matter nearly enough, nor warrant the face crack it’s aiming for. Just as we’re manipulating the game, the game is manipulating us towards its big – an inevitable – surprise.

And so the misogyny continues. After learning about the incestuous relationship, the time loop repeats and we’re greeted once again by our unknowing, loving wife with a kiss. At this point and throughout, the game’s treatment of its female lead is appalling. She’s manipulated, she’s laughed at, she’s disgusting. One ending to the game posits the man and woman continue their relationship in ignorant bliss (at least on her part). It’s even possible to stab her with a knife yourself.

There is some psychosexual explanation to all this that’s thrown in at the end. But following the game’s shocking twists, it barely registers. The game’s cycle of abuse is traumatic for its male lead, but even more so for the player in what amounts to manipulative torture porn undeserving of any intellectual analysis.

Annapurna are known for publishing bangers, as their recent showcase of future games can attest to. But Twelve Minutes is a rare misstep: a game with a celebrated cast and intriguing setup that ultimately leaves players feeling deeply uncomfortable.

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