You feel that tingling in your mind? That feeling that you forgotten something, yet this sense of nostalgia tingles inside you and never goes away? That is the feeling of games from your past, games that are now obscure from the public eye. Some are herald classics, others are better left in the landfill, but while they are no longer in the public eye, they still live on in some way. Each week, I plan on embracing that nostalgia, so to speak, and review one of these forgotten games in a series I like to call “From The Well.” This week, we look at Clock Tower.
With Halloween fast approaching, today we can look at a good old freight fest that has never been a major hit for some reason. Clock Tower is a moderately successful game that has spawned two sequels (three, if you count the original SNES game in Japan.) The premise is reminiscent of 80’s slasher movies, and the execution is just the same, somewhat shallow, but extremely terrifying at the same time.
Clock Tower was unique because of three things. First off, it had only one antagonist, the aptly named serial killer named Scissorman, who carries long garden shears and stalks our main characters to no end. He can’t be killed; he doesn’t summon skeletons to attack you. Its only him vs. you. Second, depending on how you play the game, you have ten different endings split between two primary characters that you play as, both young females who need to unravel the mystery of the game by collecting clues, interacting with other characters, and hiding from Scissorman. Lastly, the game was, unlike most survival horror games, a point and click adventure.
While the premise is well executed, it would have been a hard sell for a console point and click adventure, especially after the other survival horror game of that year, Resident Evil, graced the console a few months before. A point and click adventure that was more akin to Myst than Alone in the Dark almost made a death sentence for a game such as Clock Tower, and no amount of atmosphere was really able to save it.
Coupled with it were pretty poor controls. Your character moves very slowly, especially when you have a mask-wearing manic behind you and ready to stab you with a pair of shears. When you do run, it’s usually for short bursts and is not too fast. Plus, depending on where you click, you can have him jump out and instant kill you, breaking a cardinal rule with adventure games. Another annoyance is the freeze up that occurs when you’re cornered, with Scissorman literally blocking your only exit. At this junction it is basically game over, without putting up a fight, with no way out, and no remorse by the game.
But it does bring a sense of tension that is not felt in other survival horror games. You do get this sense that you are being stalked by a killer, this twinge of fear that you might run into him randomly, or he might pop out of nowhere and stab you in the back. Your only option is to hide, a feature used prominently and executed fairly well in the game, and that adds a degree of realism to the situation. Let’s face it; if this were real we all would be hiding instead of challenging the unkillable maniac.
It also plays to the strengths of the type of genre that it pays homage to. Slasher films are for whatever reason very popular, and with a resurgence of it going on since the late 1990’s, and it is clear that Clock Tower borrows a lot of influence from the genre, the strong heroine, the seemingly god-like killer, the cast of side characters who are cannon fodder or, more importantly, survivors to the end. In fact, based on your actions in the game, you basically pick who will live and die in the game, be it a minor character or one of the four major characters, which at the time was innovative.
Sadly, Clock Tower also suffers from the major excess of the genre, the poor storytelling. Yes there are ten endings, but each of them does not make any sense to the overall narrative and to the clues you find in the game. Another problem is that the script is weak in terms of dialogue and in execution of it. Plus some of the choices by the characters can be lifted out of the dos and don’ts of a horror movie book. Those two college kids who are there for self pleasures? Yeah…we know what happens to them.
The game also suffers from real primitive graphics and kind of poor level designs. We got long corridors and after long corridors that all look the same, be it in a mansion or an office building, and intermixed are some hiding spots, useless baubles to pitifully defend yourself from, and non-clickable objects. To the games credit, to does have a vibrant color scheme for the human characters and for the interactive objects, but it’s all drowned out by the yellow and gray hallways you need to run though. And looking at them today, the FMV sequences are not only primitive, but also stiff and oddly jaunty when moving the characters limbs and faces around.
Lastly, the games soundtrack is hit or miss, as is the voice acting, which is mostly a miss. There are personalities in the game, but they are so one note it is hard to care for them at times. One of the biggest hits is the sound effect. Creepy footsteps, distant bumps, and the sound of clanking metal from Scissorman’s shears add to the games already tense mood, and are easily one of the best parts of the game.
While Clock Tower has a lot of flaws, the unique experience of a point and click survival horror game, with one enemy to worry about and multiple endings to view, is worth trying. The controls are archaic, the graphics primitive for the Playstation, the voice overs laughable, and the story is incoherent, but despite these flaws, Clock Tower is still a scary game, and does succeed at generating fear and hopelessness of the situation it presents in the game. So if you are looking for something unique to play for your old Playstation, give Clock Tower a test run. You never know, but perhaps you can survive this survival horror’s flaws and the clanking shears of Scissorman all at once this Halloween.
Final Score- B-