Clock Tower 3 Preview
Capcom takes the reins on the latest entry in the Clock Tower franchise.
The first two Clock Tower games were solid but unspectacular entries in the horror genre on the original PlayStation. Japanese developer Human Entertainment's PC game approach relied heavily on a point-and-click mechanic that undermined the eerie atmosphere and unsettling story. The third installment in the series finds survival horror veteran Capcom taking the development and publishing chores on the game, which is promising given Capcom's experience in the horror genre. We recently checked out a preview version of the game to see how the game is coming together.
Clock Tower 3's story puts you in the role of a young Japanese girl named Alyssa who has moved away to an isolated boarding school. The game opens with Alyssa reading through a letter she's just received from her mother. Apparently Alyssa was shipped off to boarding school following the death of her grandfather. While a bit thin on the exact details of why she was sent away, her mother's letter is pretty emphatic that the relocation was to ensure Alyssa's safety. The letter also ominously asks the young girl to go into hiding until after her fifteenth birthday, which, coincidentally enough, is coming up soon. Faster than you can say "coincidence" Alyssa is called to her dorm to receive a call from her mother. When Alyssa's mother isn't on the line, Alyssa heads back home, apparently forgetting the warnings in the letter, to find her. Upon returning home she finds the family lodge empty, save for a creepy old guy who seems to know her and exhibits an unhealthy attraction for her. While finding Alyssa's mother is an important part of the game, you'll quickly figure out that the disappearance is just a piece in a larger, sinister puzzle you'll have to unravel and that the creepy old guy is an integral player in it.
The core gameplay mechanics in Clock Tower 3--exploration, item collection, puzzle solving, character interaction, and survival--should be pretty familiar to survival horror vets. The basic game structure is linear, as is the case with most horror games, and it moves you along at a pretty decent clip. You'll explore different environments, keeping an eye out for keys and other useful items you'll need to progress in the game. Item collection becomes an important element in exploration once you start interacting with ghosts. You'll discover that the surly wraiths that hassle you are lingering because of unfinished business as a result of their violent and untimely demises (don't expect to find any well-adjusted ghosts in the game). To help them "move on" you'll have to find sentimental items that will give them closure and send them to the light. The puzzles you'll encounter in the game will range from those that require you to use specific items to more logic-oriented puzzles that force you to think your way through them. You'll interact with other characters, living and dead, as you engage in all of the above and uncover new bits of the mystery you're involved in.
Of course, you'll actually have to survive potentially fatal hazards to get the chance to interact with the aforementioned enemies. Surviving becomes quite a bit of work due to the sad realization that Alyssa's time in boarding school wasn't spent in action-hero class, and you'll find that the spunky schoolgirl hasn't set out on her quest for her mom very well equipped. You'll start the game armed with good intentions and eventually get a vial of holy water that will stun enemies and open some doors. Beyond that, you'll be relying heavily on items, on special areas in the game that let you hide from or evade your assailants, and on your wits. Hide points let you conceal yourself from enemies, while evade points let you use whatever's on hand to drop your foe, albeit briefly, to buy yourself time to run like the wind. You'll also find an added level of challenge in the form of an onscreen panic meter that fills as Alyssa feels threatened. If it tops out, she becomes extremely clumsy in her panic, tripping over obstacles and getting herself killed. While there are ways to lower the meter--such as by resting in a quiet place or a by taking a swig of refreshing lavender water--you'll definitely want to be careful.
The graphics in Clock Tower 3 are a disturbing marriage of detailed polygonal models, prerendered art, and a whole lot of blood. The character models are very detailed, sometimes a little too detailed, and they animate well. The environments mix prerendered backgrounds with polygonal elements you can interact with as you creep about. Besides the corporeal crowd in the game, you'll find a wide range of spirits in unsettling designs floating about. The game will also serve up a good helping of special effects for various mystical occurrences. The game's graphics are enhanced by the engaging camera work that keeps the cutscenes and CG movies visually interesting. The only hitch in the visuals is the game's camera, which can be awkward as you move around. The game's use of fixed camera angles can be disorienting in places and may give you a moment's pause as you're trying to navigate, which can be a problem when you've got a mallet-wielding freak on your tail.
Sound in the game is very effective at setting the tone of the game. The voice acting works fairly well overall, with some truly unsettling voices coming from the undead contingent of the cast. The sound effects are a fine collection of disturbing noises tied to the various environments you'll find yourself exploring. The game's score is a bit on the heavy-handed side, beating you over the head during some key moments, but it seems to be strong overall.
From what we've played so far, Clock Tower 3 takes the series in a more accessible direction, and the visuals and story aren't for the faint of heart. The game seems to offer solid graphics, suitably moody sound, and a healthy dose of genuine scares. While the camera is a bit problematic in places, the overall package is strong enough to draw you in. Fans of the horror genre will want to keep a lookout for Clock Tower 3 when it ships this March. Look for more disturbing media in the coming weeks.
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