Clock Tower 3 PS2 Review
Yet another much-overlooked little pearl hits the PAL sale bins this Winter; the third part of the Clock Tower series. Clock Tower, you ask? The series has seen little light of day over on these fair shores; the first two games really didn’t take off, and to be honest, you didn’t miss much. However, they did have some nice innovative elements to the gameplay; namely, the beginnings of the slasher-movie brought to life in the gaming world. Your character, who was just a regular Joe, was attacked by the evil Scissorman, a murderer that had a thing for roaming college campuses for victims; where this game offered its freshness was in the fact that your character had to hide to avoid confrontation with Scissorman, which would kill them off. You could hide in any one of a number of scripted hiding places; in a bunk, cupboard…you get the idea. So, how does this game develop on what may truly be called “Survival” horror?
The graphics are pretty enough in this game; your character’s skirt sways about convincingly enough, and the environments show some real attention to detail. However, the movement of the characters is a little sterile and unimpressive, unlike the wonderful rage of human movement shown in, say, ICO or Fatal Frame 2. There are some nice motion-captured features in the cutscenes; however, it is all terribly, embarrassingly, over the top. Just watching some of them will make you cringe as you think about the poor souls that acted them out. Its wonderfully fluid, but its dubious whether or not these add to or detract from the seriousness of the gameplay.
Like almost all survival-horror, Capcom have not chosen to break the mould with this offering; standard 3rd-person puzzle-solving action is abound, as you explore numerous locations linked by only one thing; the fact that a chain of grizzly murders took place in each of them. You play as Alyssa, an English schoolgirl who receives a letter from her mother telling her to stay at the boarding school “where she is safe”. Naturally, Alyssa takes this to mean that she should hurry home immediately to see what’s afoot, and arrives only to find her parents boarding house deserted and a strange man in black telling her that he’s been looking for her for ages. Just your average day, then.
As Alyssa explores the house, she begins to learn something of her background that her parents had kept hidden from her…something involving a bloodline of “Rooders”, women that were born as a defence against evil (Buffy, anyone?), and the fact that something has gone amiss…meaning that evil is again free to run loose. Alyssa must travel back in time and location to various places to overcome key evil minions, in order to overthrow their Overlord.
However, staying true to its heritage, the real innovation of this game is in the hiding element. While running away and hiding may not seem as glamorous as blasting an enemy to smithereens with a rocket launcher, it does offer a breath of fresh air to the rather stale survival horror genre. In each location you are transported to, there will be one maniac that you must kill in order to advance. These characters are for the most part well-developed; the first is a man wielding a huge mallet that was executed years beforehand for murder; the second is a gentleman that killed his victims by throwing them into vats of acid. As you advance through the locations, you pick up clues, usually in the form of old newspapers, about your foe; this adds a history to the characters and locations, much in the manner of Silent Hill, and heightens the suspense. When you finally encounter them, Alyssa has no choice but to run and hide – don’t forget, she’s just a schoolgirl. The enemy will randomly appear after a certain length of time in the same area as you; this makes the game tense, as you constantly have to plan whether you will have time to dash across an open space with no hidey-holes and get back before he appears. Small moth-like creatures also appear; if these catch you, they will alert the enemy instantly so you always have to be on your toes.
When the “Chase Sequence” is activated – announced by creepy music – hiding spots will be marked by swirly marks. These can be anything from toilet cubicles to lockers; the action also switches to a first-person view so that you can peer out of some locations. Bear in mind though that if an enemy sees you enter these locations, they wont pretend they don’t know where you are. As well as these, “Evasion Points” will also be activated; these are one-use only tactics that can be utilised to throw an enemy off your scent. For example, by throwing an instrument case against a stacked pile of cases, you can topple it onto the enemy and pin them down; this can only be done once, so next time you’re in the area you will have to come up with some other diversionary tactic.
If you get caught, Alyssa’s sanity meter will take a beating; the amount of damage reflects how badly you were hit, and how frightened you have already been driven by being chased around. Even a missed swipe by an enemy will damage your meter somewhat, so the tension is always there. Once your meter is full, Alyssa will scream and become a bit deranged; the screen will go hazy, she will run erratically with legs and arms flailing, and may even occasionally stop and huddle in fear. This is a very frustrating situation to be in, as one hit when Alyssa is in this state will kill her – and it is hardly easy to get her out of danger when she refuses to obey commands. This is the only way that Alyssa can be killed for the majority of the game. Luckily, you can calm yourself by using lavender, which can be found lying around the levels so its always a good idea to store as much of this as possible. You can also lower your stress level by hiding out in a safe place until it has depleted; however, if an enemy gets too close to your hiding space it will begin to fill again. If it fills, you will burst out of your hiding place – so pick your recuperation spot wisely.
At the end of each section, you enter a battle with the boss of that level in which you must shoot them with magically charged arrows. These battle sequences are the only time that Alyssa can actively attack, and are confined to small arenas. The aim is to wait for an opportune break in your enemies attack to charge an arrow for a few seconds and then shoot it at the enemy. The fact that this takes some time, and you cannot move while charging, does add an element of tension to battles – although largely it just makes them frustrating. If you succeed in hitting them with a fully charged arrow, you will pin them to the wall of the arena with a strand of light – “Good”, I suppose. Your aim is to pin them with 3 strands and then shoot them once more to kill them; unfortunately they can break free if left too long, and can still attack while pinned. You can just keep hitting them with moderately-charged arrows; however, most of the enemies have so much health that anything other than this fatal pinning action will take ages to have any effect. The smallness of the arenas is a little stifling, and can get annoying in later levels as you struggle to get around obstacles while avoiding the enemy. Some of the battles can also drag out horrendously. You can pick up specially-charged arrows on the adventure; these can help cut battle time significantly so long as you don’t accidentally waste them.
As well as avoiding and eventually killing the boss, your other aim in most areas is to pacify the soul of one of their victims. This part of the game is pretty well done, with some of the victims (particularly the old woman and her son killed by “The Corroder”) are wonderfully convincing and devastating. This is done by reuniting them with an item that was significant to them in their lifetime; you then get to see them ascending up a staircase of light. This sounds horribly clichéd, but is surprisingly effective. There are also other lesser spirits wandering around, generally just above or next to their corpses; this is a nicely disturbing addition to the game, and also forms some neat side quests. Each spirit needs an item to be returned to its body before it can rest; clues as to these items are generally hidden nearby, and solving the mystery will reward you with a useful item of some sort. This is a neat optional part of the gameplay, although the fact that the spirits will chase and attack you if you get too close quickly becomes frustrating.
As well as the lavender and special arrows, Sacred Water also plays an important part in this game; it is used to open doors locked by glyphs, activate pagan circles that will transport you to other locations, and also to spray in your enemy’s face. This will give you a few seconds to escape while they snarl and writhe in pain, and is essential to get the upper edge if you are cornered.
Aside from the downsides already mentioned, the whole hiding aspect can quickly become monotonous; having to keep a refuge in mind all the time gets frustrating, as you always have to stop what you’re doing to run away and conceal yourself. This means that after a while, you stop being afraid of the enemy and just wish they would get lost – this does nothing for the suspense of the game.
Secondly, some of the later characters – namely Chopper, a woodsman brought to the present day after being executed for murdering numerous villagers, and The Scissor Twins – seem terribly out of place in the creepy scene set by The Corroder and the Hammer man. These characters are almost Manga-esque in their appearance, which spoils the largely Westernised setting and makes it seem more like a fantasy tale than horror.
Healing items are also few and far between, which really makes gameplay frustrating. Also, the savepoints are usually located in places where the enemy can appear; meaning that even saving can be a nightmare as you try to figure out if you will have time to dash to it and save before you are attacked. They also seem to be rather scarce, which can make gameplay irritating as you run back for miles to save after a particularly tricky section.
Finally, the camera; it has been placed in a static position, which makes seeing certain areas of the field a nightmare. It also causes havoc with the controls; when the angle changes, so do the directions so you frequently find yourself running back the way you have come. At certain parts of the game where running accurately is a must, this is a hideous flaw.
The voice-acting is reasonable, although the boss enemies only appear to have two in-game voice samples each; hearing “where are you Allyyyyssa?” over and over while an enemy runs around in front of your hiding spot is not particularly impressive.
The music is a little better, with it becoming more intense depending on whether or not the enemy has seen you; however, it does get a little samey after a while.
Not very long – veterans of the genre will steam through it and complete it in a few hours. Replay value is offered in the form of a harder difficulty mode, and a key to Alyssa wardrobe…from which you can pick one of 5 outfits. You also get a cinema viewer which you can use to watch all of the cutscenes from the game, and a chance to view some artwork.
In conclusion, Clock Tower 3 may be just what your survival-horror fanatics have been looking for to tide you over until the next Silent Hill or Resident Evil. It brings some new flavours to a well-used area of gaming, and if it can be found at a bargain price may well be worth it for the few hours entertainment it gives you. While it doesn’t have the polish or feel to place it parallel with these masters of the genre, its well worth a look if you have completed these games and are looking for something different…though if youre new to the genre, or are looking for something with a bit more kick, take a look at Silent Hill 3.