Sunday, January 20, 2013

Blasts from the Past: Clock Tower 3

A rebirth of the franchise, or an example of how to kill one?

As I stated in my review of Clock Tower for the PS1, the franchise had a little bit of trouble here in the West, mostly due to a general lack of interest and name recognition that Silent Hill and Resident Evil had. However after the closing of Human Entertainment (the original publisher of Clock Tower) the rights were acquired by Capcom, which many hoped would get the series some more recognition due to Capcom's success with Resident Evil. However the result that followed was not exactly what fans where hoping for.

Fourteen year old Alyssa Hamilton is in a bit of trouble; she has received an urgent note from her mother telling her not to return home from her boarding school until after her fifteenth birthday has passed due to an unknown danger, however Alyssa doesn't listen and immediately rushes home to check on her mother, only to find her mother missing, and the family's lodging house occupied only by a mysterious man whom tells Alyssa that her mother will not be returning and that he and Alyssa will be together forever. Creeped out, Alyssa explores the family house and finds a mysterious bottle of holy water that grants her the ability to break magical seals, and ward off malevolent beings, and then ends up transported back in time to WW2 London and quickly finds herself being stalked by a murderous psychopath. Alyssa must use her new-found powers to escape her would-be killers, and rescue her mother before time runs out.

The plot is horribly predictable, and is overall not very in tune with the tone and theme of the previous games (granted the games are unrelated). Rather than taking cues from slasher movies, Clock Tower 3 instead opts for a,"magical girl" story involving a young uninteresting, Mary-Sue protagonist actually being a mystic warrior, who battles the forces of darkness effectively with no training and is automatically good at it. There is no character development in Alyssa or even in the people she meets. And on that note, the stalkers in this game lack the same fear-factor as the Scissorman from the previous game, since they are all mostly cackling, rejected  Power Rangers villains instead of genuinely scary psychopaths.

Art Direction
The game's visuals are actually quite good, and are the source of what little terror there actually is in this game since they effectively capture the grimy terror, and loneliness of the dark London streets. Character models look good, except for their faces which are rather doll-like with unrealistic expressions. Surprisingly, the voice acting is not "that bad" in this game, its still not very good, but it's leagues above Resident Evil, and Clock Tower (2) in this department; music is also not too shabby, but its a little uninspired, and the chase themes are nowhere near as adrenaline pumping as the themes from the first two Clock Towers.

Capcom, in a decision reviled by most fans of the series, (myself included) decided to completely change the Clock Tower gameplay to resemble that of a traditional horror game, rather than a point-and-click adventure. The player has full control over Alyssa  in a manner not too unlike the Resident Evil games, and must find certain items and use them in the correct places to advance the plot. And there lies out first problem with the game, the RE style fixed camera perspective angles make this game a MISERABLE experience since you'll frequently turn a corner only for the camera to change angles and reverse your controls, thus making you walk straight out of the room you just entered, and have to re-enter.

The series' signature deadly game of hide-and-seek returns once again with quite a few changes. Unlike the first two Clock Tower games (not counting the Ghost Head spin-off), this one throws a different killer your way each chapter, an aspect that I would admire, if any of the killers were actually frightening beyond one or two frankly mean-spirited moments in the game's plot. Also unlike the first two games, the killers are actually just as fast (if not faster) than you, which means they'll be on your heels constantly...which WOULD pose a threat if it wasn't for their terrible A.I and the removal of the chance of being discovered while in hiding places (which I'll get to later). Killers can appear randomly, be alerted to Alyssa's presence by noisy actions or their moth-like minions, or burst out of hiding during preordained moments.

Panic also works differently in the game; rather than being something used to get out of sticky situations like in previous entries, panic now takes the form of a meter that fills in moments of danger like when a killer makes a sudden appearance, or if they get close enough to swing their weapon at Alyssa. When the meter is filled, Alyssa will go into into a hard-to-control state of panic where she can be killed from a single hit (unless she has a certain item), so if cornered, players must now used Alyssa's  bottle of holy water to stun the killer and get a step ahead of them, this bottle can run dry if used too many times and must be refilled at a fountain (which also function as save points). Once again the camera rears its ugly head in these moments since the game's frequent perspective changes make the chases way harder and more annoying than they really should be.

In order to stay alive, Alyssa must elude the killer via the game's hiding places or "evade points". Hiding places are not as numerous (or as unobvious) as in previous titles, but also unlike previous titles they do not lose effectiveness if used multiple times since there is no chance that the killer will inspect the hiding place (EVEN IF THEY DIRECTLY SEE ALYSSA ENTER IT!), instead the panic meter will fill if the killer gets a little too close, but they'll usually not stick around for too long and vanish. This GREATLY detracts from the fear-factor since the worst case scenario involves having to use a healing item to prevent Alyssa from stupidly bolting from her hiding place. "Evade points" function similarly to weapons from previous titles, and usually result in the killer being temporarily incapacitated ala "Scooby Doo" style moments. Once again, due to the comical nature of these evade points and the fact that they ALWAYS work, the fear-factor practically evaporates.

Like in Resident Evil, there are several consumables littered throughout the game's different environments that Alyssa can find and must ration for important moments. Lavender Water will slowly lower Alyssa's panic meter, invisibility bands will allow Alyssa to turn invisible for a few seconds for a quick escape if she is cornered, and Sigil stones will protect Alyssa from one fatal blow. Alyssa can also find a few different types of magical arrows that come into play during certain moments of the game (I'll get to that later). Important items are mostly sentimental objects like jewelry, and trinkets used to pacify the restless ghosts in each area and advance the plot, in fact ghost pacification takes up a good chunk of the game and gets rather tedious and uninteresting VERY fast. There are puzzles, but most of them are insultingly simple and barely vary beyond a few templates.

Perhaps the most fan-derided addition to the game is the boss battles, or as the game calls them "Judgement Times". Without getting into the clunky mechanics, its easy to see why they're so reviled, Clock Tower's source of fear is supposed to be based on helplessness and wits, the fact that your main character is an all-powerful (when the game lets her be) Mary-Sue who can slay the forces of darkness really is the finishing blow to any form of horror in the game.

During Judgement, Alyssa's holy water becomes a bow (just roll with it) with an unlimited stock of magical arrows that she must rain down on the killer to send them off to Hell. These boss battles are some of the WORST I've ever seen in a video game; basically Alyssa cannot adjust the aim of her bow, she can only shoot straight forward, meaning that if the enemy strafes, she must lower her bow and take aim again. Arrows can be charged, and a fully charged arrow will bind the enemy to the spot, while three specifically placed shoots with open the enemy up to Alyssa's super attack which will pretty much instantly kill the boss (or lower their health to single digits). Alyssa can also use the special arrows she finds throughout the game, but she cannot select specific ones, they are used in the order they were found, which make strategizing and rationing certain arrows impossible and pretty much makes them useless until the final boss. Bosses aren't exactly hard (except the final boss, but you can just unload all special arrows on him to win), but they are incredibly irritating due to the inability to adjust aim or select a certain special arrow, and overall, they don't really fit in with the Clock Tower formula.

Capcom seems to have given up on this series and have just let it sit since the failure of this game, and the spiritual successor that followed it (and the subject of another review). It really makes me sad to see such potential just go to waste, and I really hope that sometime in the future Capcom will try to revitalize this series...but hopefully it won't be like this game.



  • Good visuals
  • Innovative health system

  • Weak plot
  • Horrible controls
  • Abysmal boss battles
  • Broken villain AI

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