Monday, 14 November 2016

Point and click mania - Clock Tower

“Raised in the Granite Orphanage, Jennifer and her friends
were wanted as adopted daughters.
It happened in September…”

It’s hard to be objective to a game I ritualistically play every Halloween much less to a game that practically redefined the survival horror genre overnight. Clock Tower is a forgotten gem which has no right to be as good as it is. It does everything wrong. An action driven game that pits you against one enemy; offering no weapons to defend yourself against it. Check. A 90’s point and click adventure that can be finished in under an hour. Check. Small children killed in a Nintendo exclusive. Check. Yes, Clock Tower offered the emerging horror gamer an experience quite unlike any other.

Inspired by the giallo work of Dario Argento and video nasties such as The Burning, Clock Tower puts you in control of unwanted, orphan Jennifer as she attempts to navigate an isolated mansion whilst she and her young friends are routinely hunted by a serial killer. You win the game by hiding and hoping to be quick enough, and lucky enough - the killers appearance is randomized - to escape an unfortunate end. Help does not come.

While you run, Jennifer panics. If she panics too much she will begin to fall over. The killer closes in. If you reach a dead end, the game continues letting you simply wait knowing there is absolutely nothing you can do. Then you are schewered like a pig.  You will see Jennifer die a lot in Clock Tower. Surprisingly, the game never made it out of the Japanese market. 

Here’s a typical event that may happen in Clock Tower: Jennifer runs into an outhouse with the pulsating John Carpenter music revibrating down the coridors after her. I climb a ladder onto a balcony and duck down. The killer enters and I push the ladder over preventing him from reaching me. He leaves. The music ends. I suddenly realise the drop is too far for me to return to the ground floor and I am stuck up there. Suddenly, the roof caves in and the killer is up there with me. He advances.

It is this psychology of uncertainty and vulnerability that makes the atmosphere of Clock Tower work so effortlessly. You are in danger from the moment the game begins to the moment it ends. There are no powerups, cheats or saves and later games in the series wouldn’t even have canonical endings. Pick your favourite said the director [in the sequel manual] there’s the “Hollywood” ending, the “franchise” ending; he continues to list them off as if he really doesn’t care. The game over screen is termed “dead end” perhaps ironically. There are nine endings in total to Clock Tower and many of them are not pretty.

The popularity of the game continued to grow years later thanks to internet piracy and elements of the game found its way into populrar cultue, the panic system was incorporated into the original Dino Crisis and online cult legend Benjamin Yahtzee of Zero Punctuation fame developed a video game trilogy inspired by the game beginning with “5 Days a Stranger.” Now the series has finally been revived thanks to a kick starter campaign.

Will Jennifer and her friends escape from The Barrows Mansion? This time perhaps, and there are three ways in which she could have done so that tie to a direct seuel, but in future games - all endings are equivocal. It is this open endededness and lack of concern with an overly rewarding or punishing game experience that allows players the freedom to interpret the game as they see fit.

The game was later ported to Windows but once again failed to acquire interested publishers outside of Japan. I wonder why.

If you like this try:
5 Days a Stranger, Broken Sword (series), Silent Hill (series), Dark Seed (series).

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