This week on Zero Punctuation, Yahtzee reviews Twelve Minutes.
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There's a lot you can get done in twelve minutes: walk the dog, learn a new fact about the Moon, listen to an entire ad break on a commercial radio station. I, for example, can use twelve minutes to extinguish all your enthusiasm for a recent game you thought might've been interesting. (Uh... as long as you watch this video twice.) So not too long ago, I did The Forgotten City, assuming you haven't... forgotten, and I said at the time that time loops are becoming a trend amid a certain breed of narrative-driven adventure game. It wasn't a proper trend yet, because it was only indie games doing it; when something with some real money behind it rips it off and acts like they invented the fucking concept, that's when you know a trend has hit the big time.
Twelve Minutes certainly seems to have a not-insignificant amount of money to swan about with; Daisy Ridley money, no less. Yes, that hot young starlet best known for her show-stopping turns as "the posh girl from the new Star Wars" and... (...) Well, anyway, James McAvoy and Willem Dafoe are here, too, to crank the star power up even higher, and guess what? If the game hadn't told me that big celebrities did the voices, I wouldn't have been able to fucking tell.
So, not for the first time, I have to ask a video game what on Earth the fucking point of hiring that kind of expensive talent was if any jobbing voice-overer could've achieved the same result. I guess Willem Dafoe's voice has a unique character to it - although in this case, he seems to be doing his best Christopher Lloyd impression - but the other two are both putting on American accents, and just sound like generic actor persons the director could've bundled into a van at literally any Los Angeles bus stop. I mean, you only hired them so you could slap their names on the front; why make them talk in an accent that makes them doubly unrecognizable? It's like getting a personalized number-plate with a non-obvious meaning. You blew all that money, and didn't even gain any status; you've just made the dude behind you squint in confusion at your bumper.
"This is a very minor point to harp on for so long, Yahtzee; it almost seems like there isn't much to say about the game." Oh, look, it's Captain Observant, everyone! He must've been let out early from his job pointing out the spelling mistakes in other people’s Reddit posts! Yeah, it's a snacky student short film of a game about a twelve-minute sequence taking place in three rooms; it's not what you'd call "bingeable".
The premise is, you're a dude who comes home to his lazy-arse wife who thinks getting two storebought chocolate lava cakes out of the fridge counts as "cooking dinner", after which, a very angry man bursts in and, in brief summary, fucks the pair of you up. Then, you get inexplicably transported back ten minutes, and keep getting sent back to that moment every time you die or attempt to leave the apartment. Our hero must repeat the loop until he can avert his fate and eventually get to the bottom of the various dark secrets that are lurking under everything, like a dead spider in a carelessly-poured glass of milk.
I like the presentation; the harsh, directly top-down camera angle creates an effective sense of foreboding, like we, the player, are the Sword of Damocles, waiting to stab our character's pleasant evening with the missus right when he's assessing his blowjob chances. The attention to detail, with the number of things you can do and that other characters will react to, is... well, I suppose it would've been more impressive if there were more than three fucking rooms in the game, but hey; I can steal my wife's phone and hide it in a ventilation duct, and put candles around it like I'm leaving an offering to the god of HVAC engineering, and that's got to count for something.
I found Twelve Minutes to be absorbing up to a point; the home invasion is kind of harrowing at first, but it's interesting how desensitized you get after a few goes around. "Hmmmm... looks like jumping out of the closet and handing the home invader dessert doesn't do anything. Ho-hum! Guess I'll let him shatter my jawbone against a chair leg again." It's probably saying something terribly profound about cycles of violence and our desensitization to horror in modern society, but then the game takes a turn. And I should probably drop a spoiler warning here, because people always jump up my butt if I don't. So here goes: Spoiler warning! My butt is not open to callers today; thank you.
There's a moment where you think you've got it all figured out; you de-escalate the home invasion, the burglar says he's very sorry, everyone agrees to part amicably with a party bag and a slice of birthday cake, you and your wife embrace lovingly, and then BAM! It's ten minutes a-go again, and you're standing nonplussed at the front door, with your big, relieved stiffy hanging unfulfilled like an unpulled fire alarm at a remedial school. This is the bit where the game effectively channels the middle act of Groundhog Day, when we and the protagonist start trying everything to figure out what this fucking time loop even wants from us. Get the happy ending again, but with slight changes in details? "Nope!" Fix it so the invader never shows up at all, and have a perfectly nice evening in with the oblivious wife? "Nope!" Murder the home invader, then murder my wife, then murder myself in the face with a gun? "Nope!" Wasn't actually expecting that to work, but I was bloody disappointed there wasn't an achievement for it.
This was all very intriguing, but only until I found the final twist before the "ending" ending, at which point, the game kind of fell apart. I think it was the "ending" ending; I've consulted with a number of colleagues, and we're all only tentatively sure it was the ending. There was certainly a credits sequence - in which I spotted a credit for Daisy Ridley's voice coach; more needless expense. Was this a fucking tax thing, guys? - but there was still a sense of anticlimax. I won't spoil the last twist, but for the sake of discussion, I'll replace it with something roughly equivalent. After you connect the last dot, it turns out that all along, the main character was a dog molester, and the only way to escape the time loop is to get the game to go, "You know what? Let's just wash our hands of this whole affair and pretend it never happened." And in reply, I go, "Well, yes, I suppose that would be for the best. Honestly, I'm a little bewildered as to how it happened in the first place; I mean, why would a dog molester want to marry a human woman? You'd think they'd want to settle down with a nice, homely Golden Retriever."
But I still get this nagging sense that I got the unsatisfying bad ending that leaves things unresolved, and there must be some good ending you can get somehow, where you escape the time loop with your wife, and she comes to terms with you wanting to bugger spaniels, and you live happily ever after in a house that backs onto the local animal shelter. But that wouldn't work, because we fucking molest dogs! So I'm left trapped in this confusing mental limbo between wanting some closure for the character we've been identifying with all this time and his long-suffering wife, and not wanting to encourage the rape of Chihuahuas.
But I don't know if I'd call Twelve Minutes good or bad; it's just weird. It's not Bland Five material, either, 'cos it at least sparks conversation, even if that conversation is "Get the fuck away from my Labradoodle!"
- Coming around again: Ben "Yahtzee" Croshaw
- Really thought I was onto something with those vents; thought I could put candles in them and make the home invader think fairies live in my skirting board
- Maybe the game's all a metaphor for catching up on political news