CLOCK TOWER / Human / Playstation

Human Entertainment apparently decided to go for the "Most Confusing Nomenclature" Award with their Clock Tower series, which I believe they won in a narrow decision over Wonderboy. The first game was Clock Tower, for the SNES; then they made a remake of that game for Playstation called "Clock Tower :  The First Fear". Simple and logical enough, so far. Then they went and screwed things up by making a sequel to that game on the Playstation, but also calling it "Clock Tower" with no subtitles whatsoever. It's the direct sequel to the original Clock Tower, and really should have been called Clock Tower 2, but that title ended up going to the next game they put out, a Crapsule award winner called "The Struggle Within" that had no connection to the plot and characters of the previous games whatsoever and played like it was written and programmed by tarsis monkeys. After the epic fail of that game, they sold the series off to Capcom, who finished the job of killing it off so that the popularity of their Alone In The Dark/George Romero ripoff festival would not be challenged by an actual quality horror series with some innovative ideas. They did this by not only making Clock Tower 3 have no connection to the rest of the series as well, but also by making you play as an elf who shoots rainbow arrows or something. I dunno, it was for PS2, I didn't play it.

Anyway, the game we have before us today is the second Clock Tower game, the "true" Clock Tower 2, and arguably the last entry in the series of any quality whatsoever.

"Check out my Ollie 360 Shove It to Boneless Kickflip! ... oops! Ow!"

This entry sees the return of both the beleaguered Jennifer Simpson and her grisly nemesis the Scissorman. Jen has repaired to Oslo, where she is undergoing some serious hypnotherapy to try to deal with the trauma of the events at the Barrows Mansion in the first game. She's living with a psychology researcher named Helen, and all is going nicely until she's chased on her way home one day and winds up trapped in a university building with ... dunt dun dun ... the Scissorman!

Actually, that's not necessarily the way the story plays out. This game is divided into three main chapters, with "intermissions" preceding each that are basically like long cutscenes where you get to walk around a little. Certain decisions you make in these "intermissions", however, determine what character you play as in the coming chapter, and can even send you off to a new scenario entirely in the case of Chapter 2. Jen and her new buddy Helen are the two primaries in the story, though lecherous pedophile reporter Nolan and foul-mouthed cop Gotts can get a star turn if you play your cards right. However you wind up doing things, the story eventually leads to the Barrows Castle in England, where the goal is to find a way to put the scissor freak down once and for all.

The gameplay is more or less identical to that of the SNES original - you're locked inside some building, the apparently immortal Scissorman is after you, and the goal is to escape and hide from him while exploring around finding items and such and solving puzzles. This game is a touch more challenging than the original, as the Scissorman now can appear at random intervals in just about any area of the game. Those who played the SNES version will recall that, after exploring the grounds thoroughly, one would find out that Scissorman only popped out when you poked at certain non-essential background items, meaning that a cautious player could go through the entirety of the game only seeing the scissorbastard once or twice during the whole stretch. That doesn't fly in this one - if you haven't seen him for a few minutes, he'll come and check up on you, and he also likes to burst into rooms when you spend too long muddling around in them.

Along with the increased appearances of the Scissorman, however, come increased opportunities to elude him. There are more hiding spots in this game than in the previous, as well as more random items that can be used as makeshift weapons to incapacitate him long enough for a getaway.

The game also is rendered in 3D for both backgrounds and characters now. Though the primary view is from the side in a manner similar to the first game, backgrounds will now rotate and pan along with you in certain parts. The game's pointer-based interface is virtually identical, but movement and inventory are now just a touch smoother than they were on the SNES - you can use the whole visible plane of walkable space now, as opposed to being constricted to walking right/left on a narrow path unless there was a background object to interact with. This adds the possibility, in a few of the game's rooms, of waiting on one end of a table or other large fixture for the Scissorman to start limping around one side, only to dash around the other end and beat feet for the door before he can grab you.

And, of course, the Panic Button returns. In the event Scissorman gets on top of you, or some other surprising calamity befalls you, you can hammer the Square button to stomp him in the nuts - provided you have enough energy. One daring escape usually drops your energy level to Orange - it will recharge gradually as you walk around, but if you use Panic Button again while in the Orange it goes to Red, and while Red you lose the Panic ability and automatically die if grabbed by Scissors or some other beastie. I missed the portrait used to convey energy levels in the original game, which was expressive and a haunting touch, but the new system is functional and you recharge a lot faster (and without having to stand still for long periods of time as you did in the previous game).

"He died like a man ... he died with a candle in his ass."

The game is a tremendous horror experience. Though the chases have their goofy, logic-defying moments, the incredible music and sound combined with the Scissorman's genuinely disturbing appearance make it work on a scare level higher than anything I've encountered in other horror games (looking at you zombie games).

Trouble is, it wears thin kinda quickly. As with the first game, once you've learned Scissorman's little tricks and rhythms, evading him becomes more of a minor nuisance than a major horrific event. Without Scissorman, the game is basically a clunky second-rate PC-style adventure game with a very limited interface and obvious puzzles - and once Scissorman becomes boring, so does the game. The use of three separate chapters with differing areas (thus differing hidey-holes for him to pop out of) does to some degree extend the challenge and enjoyment of the gimmick, but taken as a whole it seems like they intentionally made the game very short as they couldn't come up with a better way to keep you from getting bored over the long haul.

There are other trouble spots for the game. The English localization is absolutely abysmal. The voice acting is about as atrocious as that of Resident Evil and other Capcom Playstation games, employing the same "bribe the janitorial staff with free coffee" technique of voice casting that those other games used. Compounding this is a bad, overly-literal translation from Japanese obviously done by someone not entirely fluent in both languages. The chopped-up dialogue often fails to convey important story information and almost always sounds stilted and awkward.

The game engine functions well enough to get through, though there are many frustrating points. Saved games seem to fling you back in time to the point where you entered the room, often removing items you may have recently picked up from your inventory. You often simply cannot click on or pick up things that you would normally be able to use against the Scissorman, seemingly on a whim of the game. There's also the irritation factor of seeing highly portable and useful items like a can of mace sitting around, yet you simply aren't allowed to pick them up and carry them with you. The puzzles in the game are mostly easy, but many of them rely on clicking on the same object two or three times in a row when there's no particular indication to do so, either that or they magically spawn items in areas that you've already searched after certain other events have taken place.

In spite of all that complaining, I think the game is still worth experiencing. It's quickly finished, and even with multiple scenarios it still doesn't have a huge amount of replay value. But it does atmosphere, ambient sound and pure "made you jump" moments better than nearly any other game out there. That's not enough to be worth $100 or whatever ridiculous prices used copies are going for, but it certainly is worth a 200 megabyte download and a couple of afternoons in ePSXe at the least.

Links :

French fan site clumsily translated into English by Babelfish

Videos :

Gameplay Video  (may be some spoilers)