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Heads-up: Twelve Minutes is more violent and traumatic than its visuals suggest

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The story goes places, most of them unpleasant

an overhead shot of a man looking at a woman lying dead on the floor in a pool of blood, in an apartment in Twelve Minutes
Twelve Minutes can be as grim as Game of Thrones.
Image: Luis Antonio/Annapurna Interactive

Twelve Minutes is one of the most anticipated indie games of 2021, with developer Luis Antonio and publisher Annapurna Interactive having built up a groundswell of buzz over a period of years. The interactive thriller launches Thursday, Aug. 19, on Windows PC, Xbox One, and Xbox Series X — including via Xbox Game Pass, which means that it’ll be available for “free” to the service’s massive subscriber base.

Those unsuspecting players should know what they’re getting into. Twelve Minutes is rated M for Mature, and carries four ESRB content descriptors: Blood and Gore; Sexual Content; Strong Language; and Violence. But frankly, those generic phrases don’t capture the grim nature of the story and its many gruesome and unsettling events.

Twelve Minutes is played from a top-down perspective with stylized, non-photorealistic graphics, and the characters’ faces aren’t visible. But that doesn’t rob these scenes of their brutality — they feel more real and grounded than most bloody first-person shooters.

For some members of Polygon, the degree of violence served the story. For others, it was ultimately off-putting.

Of course, it’s difficult to discuss the specifics here without getting into spoiler territory, which we don’t want to do — and won’t. However, if you want to go in without knowing any details at all, feel free to stop reading here.

One thing that you’ve likely noticed if you’ve seen any trailers for Twelve Minutes is that the violence, blood, and gore mentioned by the ESRB happens to the unnamed woman in the story — the protagonist’s wife, who is voiced by Daisy Ridley. If you find it hard to stomach violence against women, this may not be the game for you, since making progress in Twelve Minutes requires that the player powerlessly watch multiple violent incidents against her.

Twelve Minutes’ story also deals with familial violence and sexual taboos. These aren’t just background details or themes; the game sometimes implicates the main characters in ways that can feel — for lack of a more specific term — icky. Of course, the topic of content warnings has come up recently with another indie project, Kitfox Games’ Boyfriend Dungeon, but that game does already include an advisory upfront that the developer is updating to be more specific.

Twelve Minutes doesn’t include any content warnings. We asked the developer and publisher why there is no content warning within the game, and whether they had considered including one. Both parties declined to comment on the record to Polygon, although an Annapurna representative pointed out the M for Mature rating.

The arrival of both games may further the ongoing conversation about the expectation and limitations of such warnings in video games. To Antonio’s and Annapurna’s credit, they have taken care in interviews and marketing to characterize Twelve Minutes as a game with an adult-oriented story. It certainly is that.