Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Blasts From the Past: Clock Tower

Ever wondered what it's like to be in a slasher flick? Here you go!

Publisher- ASCII
Release Date- 1997
Platform- Playstation

The Clock Tower series is a rather unknown franchise here in the west, mostly due to its games lack of marketing, limited releases, and for mostly being a rather niche brand of games (psychological horror). Most of the games take the form of a point and click style adventure in which the player must find key items while exploring a creepy location, as well as evade the killer stalking them via hiding places or impromptu traps. In short, they emulate the experience, horror, and helplessness of being the protagonist of a slasher movie like Halloween, or Friday the 13th, which the earliest games in the series do exceedingly well. The subject of this review is the sequel to a SNES game also called Clock Tower (this one being called Clock Tower 2 in Japan) that sadly never saw a release outside Japan, and if you missed this game, I strongly recommend you rectify this situation now.

Taking place a year after the previous game, 15 year old orphan, Jennifer Simpson is living in Oslo under the care of Helen Maxwell, assistant to Southern Oslo University's lead professor of criminal psychology Samuel Barton, whom is attempting to gain information from Jennifer regarding the Clock Tower murders; a series of murders commited by a maniac known as Bobby Barrows AKA Scissorman, of which Jennifer and another child named Edward are the only survivors. Despite her insistence that the killer was indeed an immortal monster, she is not taken seriously...until murderer seemingly returns for another killing spree.

The best thing about the plot is that it changes depending on certain actions the player takes, either Jennifer or Helen can become the main character, and certain side characters will either live or die as the plot progresses; in fact the ending can change depending on the player's decisions made throughout the game with a grand total of 10 endings (5 for each character). But the bad thing about the plot is that...translation was not exactly kind to the game; in fact it kinda creates a few plot holes in the over-arching story established by the previous game. The story is also not very deep, but since the game is somewhat of a homage to the slasher flicks of the eighties and early ninties, this is forgivable.

Art Direction
Overall Clock Tower looks...UGLY; which is in surprisingly stark contrast to its predecessor, which pushed the SNES graphics to their limits; characters are blocky, practically featureless in their faces, and move very stiffly, almost like legos or action figures. Backgrounds are all rather varied, and add to the frightening nature of the game, but suffer once again from the overall ugly presentation of this game visually.

But the worst part of the game is hands down, the voice acting. Forget Resident Evil, forget Mega Man X4, this game gets my vote for worst voice acting in a game; there is no attempt to act or emote at all from this game's "cast" and I can't help but feel that the localization team just grabbed random people from the hallway of their offices and told them to read off a script. However where this game excels beautifully technically is in its sound direction; the sound effects, and music (or lack thereof) helps to punctuate this game's horror with pulse pounding chase music as Scissorman pursues you, and the lonely footsteps, ambient noise, and door creaks made during moments of safety, all building up to the next harrowing encounter with old Scissy.

Clock Tower is a point-and-click style adventure similar to games such as King's Quest V-VI in that the player orders their character to move, use inventory items, or inspect objects with a cursor, and fortunately since moving a cursor can be rather tricky with a D-pad, the cursor will automatically lock on to inspectable items or doors when moved over them, a press of the X button will tell the character to either walk/run (depending on how many times the button was pressed in succession) to the pointed location, inspect a highlighted item, or move through a door. Also like an most adventure games, you have an inventory of collected items, accessible by moving the cursor to the upper left part of the screen and selecting the item of need from the drop-down menu.

The best way to describe the game's method of play is as a deadly game of hide-and-seek; throughout each of the game's three locations you must find significant clues and items needed to defeat Scissorman in the game's 3rd act, while also seeking the items you need to access the one way out of the stage. Throughout the hallways and rooms you are in constant danger of encountering Scissorman who will appear either at random points, or in a possible hiding place that can be triggered by inspection of certain items, or in some cases just entering the room. If Scissorman finds you, a chase will begin and you must quickly find either a hiding place (bathroom stalls, closets, beds), or some sort of weapon/trap to incapacitate the maniac temporarily; sadly not all hiding places and weapons are created equal as some will fail, which in the best case will result in the chase continuing, and in the worst case will result in the character being instantly killed. If you are unfortunate enough to either be cornered, or run into Scissorman head-on, a panic mode will begin which will require the player to mash the square button to avoid instant skewering at the cost of one of three points of stamina (reflected by the cursor's color) and being forced to run into a random room; however stamina should be preserved at all costs since it cannot be restored and there are other paranormal threats aside from Scissy lurking about that will cost stamina to overcome.

The weak point of the gameplay is in the game's "intermissions", which naturally take place between the game's main 3 acts. It mostly consists of fast-travelling to various locations, reading badly translated exposition, and occasionally making choices that will affect who the main character is or where the second Scissorman attack location will be (either the Library or a suburban house); in short, its boring, and really disrupts the horror of the game.

While the game can be completed in about 4 hours, it possess good replayability with its changing scenarios, multiple endings, as well as the many different hints that can be found through exploration of the game's 3 scenarios which can help players obtain certain endings or overcome certain puzzles. However, I strongly recommend that you DO NOT use a walkthrough for this game, as it will completely eliminate both the fear and fun this game produces.

This cult classic is a gem worthy of any horror (or adventure) fan's collection. However getting a copy is easier said than done due to the game's limited release, and status as a cult classic. However if you can get your hands on a copy, you'll be in for an incredibly scary fun experience.

B- Great gameplay, and horror moments, but is dragged down by ugly visuals, and poor translation.

How to Get It
Sadly the game is rather hard to find at prices below 40$ on ebay or amazon. Check your local used game stores first.

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