'12 Minutes' is a murderous 'Groundhog Day'

You only have a few minutes to crack the case (this time around).

Everyone has regrets; words and actions that we wish we could take back or try again. But only a precious few are gifted the opportunity for mulligans of such magnitude. In Annapurna Interactive's latest psychological thriller, 12 Minutes, you're granted (perhaps cursed) with exactly that.

In 12 Minutes you play as a man stuck in a time loop a la Russian Doll or Looper. Returning home from work to a special meal prepared by your wife, you quickly settle in for a comfortable evening. That respite is quickly dashed by a knock at the door. Your unannounced visitor is a police detective who suspects your wife of murdering her father 12 years ago. A fracas breaks out as he moves to arrest her, leading to you being knocked out and revived just as you entered the apartment less than a quarter hour before. This is where the fun starts.

The entire game takes place inside the one-bedroom apartment and only involves the three main characters: you, your wife, and the cop. That might not seem like enough to power the main 6-8 hour story but once you start playing, you quickly realize how dense and layered the game actually is. I was afforded a 30 minute demo here at E3 along with four other gaming journalists. Within two revivals, the five of us were tearing the apartment apart, exploring every corner and cabinet, collecting and combining items to see what happens.

For example, I figured out that if you pick up a mug from the counter and click on the sink, you'll fill the cup with water and take a healthy swig. The next time through, the next reporter up found a stash of sleeping pills in the bathroom. The third time through we'd discovered that if you take the mug, fill it with water, slip in some sleeping pills and offer it to either your wife or the cop, you can temporarily knock them out.

And that's the beauty of this game. While each round is at most 12 minutes long, you're constantly learning from your various experimentations. Luckily, your character learns these lessons as well so that the next time you play through, you'll have access to new dialog and action options. Items can be used and combined with nearly limitless options. It's quite not the same pace as, say, Minit, the roguelike speedrunning game we saw last year, but you definitely feel a novel combination of short term anxiety as you race around the house before the police arrive and the zen of long-term "I wonder what happens if I push this button" strategy planning.

What's more, the game leaves you entirely to your own devices. The interface is minimal, really just an item drawer accessed from the top of the screen. There are no AI guides, narrative hints, task lists, checkpoints or goals. According to Annapurna Interactive reps, the game pulls its inspiration from films like Memento and Groundhog Day. It even gives a nod to the iconic carpet pattern from The Shining's Overlook Hotel.

12 minutes is scheduled for release on the XBox One and PC in early 2020.