Clock Tower 3

Platforms: PS2
Release Date: 2003-03-19
Regions: USA Japan Europe
Chris’s Rating: ★★★☆
A solid, if simple, exercise in hide-and-seek scares and fantasy horror.

Clock Tower 3 represents a departure from the Clock Tower formula. The previous three games (two on Playstation 1 and the one on SNES) all relied on point-and-click control schemes and complex event chains. Clock Tower 3 discards the cursor interface, opting for a more conventional scheme that places the player in direct control over the protagonist. Unlike the previous games, Clock Tower 3 also introduces boss fights and a variety of sub-missions.

Most of these changes were probably caused by a change in developer. While the previous Clock Tower games were developed by Human Entertainment and published by ASCII, Clock Tower 3 was developed by SunSoft and published by Capcom. The change in developer seems to have been beneficial, as the entire game is far more polished than previous incarnations.

Despite all the changes, the basic gameplay elements of the Clock Tower series have been preserved. The main character is a young female who must explore the surrounding area and avoid a prowling, unkillable monster. As in Clock Tower 2, the lead character is named Alyssa. As in previous games, Alyssa is unable to fight off her attackers; her only option is to run and hide. In this version the developers have given Alyssa a slightly stronger arsenal: by collecting special items she may turn invisible for a short time or temporarily stop her assailant. Most of the game is spent exploring various locations and trying to avoid the resident monster.

SunSoft has also added sub-quests involving appeasing ghosts of people killed by the monster. These sub-quests are interesting, but they do not really add much to the game. In fact, many of them can be skipped without consequence.

The monster designs are very cool. Alyssa faces a total of six monsters over the course of the game, each with different powers and attributes. All of the monsters are suitably freaky, and their appearance can be genuinely startling. When Alyssa encounters a monster, she must try to run and hide. As the monster gains on her, Alyssa’s “panic bar” will rise. If it becomes completely full, Alyssa goes into panic mode, where she can be killed with a single hit. In panic mode, the screen is distorted and Alyssa becomes more difficult to control. Other than being hit during panic mode, Alyssa cannot die outside of a boss fight.

At the end of each section, Alyssa must face the section’s monster in a boss fight. This mode is entirely new to the series. Both Alyssa and the monster are given life bars, and Alyssa must fight using a magical bow are arrow set that she suddenly becomes able to wield. The fighting seems simplistic, but there is actually a bit of depth and strategy involved in charging up shots and using special arrows. However, the fighting mechanics are never adequately explained, so it is difficult to utilize Alyssa’s full abilities until very late in the game (there were a couple of moves that I only learned about during the final boss fight). Even so, the boss fights are fairly easy and provide a nice break from the exploratory gameplay. However, the end boss is not well balanced: while most boss battles can be won on the first or second attempt, the end boss took me close to 15 attempts to complete. Even worse, the battle is mostly a war of attrition, and winning boils down to executing the same move over and over with impeccable timing. Most of the boss battles do not suffer from this problem, and in general I found them to be quite enjoyable.

Though the mechanics of Clock Tower 3 are simple, the are far from perfect. The biggest problem is that the resident monster can burst in on Alyssa at any time, and since Alyssa cannot fight your only choice is to run and hide. Other games effectively separate combat from exploration, but in Clock Tower 3 the combat constantly interferes with the traversal of the levels. Throughout the game I found myself wishing I could just look around and forget about the monster. Unfortunately, most of the game is spent fleeing the various villains rather than actually exploring.

The control scheme is simple, but the movement controls themselves feel a bit too twitchy. During some boss fights, moving around is more difficult than necessary because of odd camera angles. Alyssa is able to run (her default method of movement), walk, crouch, and crawl. The control scheme will comfortable for anyone who has played a third-person horror game before, but a bit of care must be taken not to send Alyssa sprawling in the wrong direction.

The story in Clock Tower 3 is interesting enough, but the presentation swings wildly from extraordinarily violent to sappy and trite. For example, in the first chapter Alyssa witnesses a 12-year old girl’s slaughter at the hands of a mallet-wielding madman. The depiction of her death is explicit and gruesome. However, when the madman is finally bested, the ghost of the girl happily floats up to Heaven in a campy sequence reminiscent of the ending of the movie Ghost. It is as if the developers could not decide if they wanted their audience to feel scared or emotionally fulfilled.

Though Clock Tower 3 is quite short (I finished it the first time through in under 5 hours), the game is well paced and does not need to be any longer. The game play lacks enough depth to sustain a longer game, and the game seems to end right when you want it to.

The story is shown through a series of very well animated cut scenes. Some of the cut scenes are pre-rendered, but most of them take place within the game engine. The graphics engine itself is very high quality, and Clock Tower 3 sports some excellent visuals. I found the art style for the environments to be a little bland, but the enemy design is excellent. Overall, Clock Tower 3 is quite a good looking game.

Clock Tower 3 is a nice break from the various Resident Evil and Silent Hill clones. It’s mostly well executed and fun to play. The game is definitely more fun than its predecessors, though it is also far less innovative. Overall, the annoying points of the game are not enough to really ruin the experience. If you are looking for something new, give Clock Tower 3 a try.