Clock Tower 3 review
Time Wasted


My experience with survival horror games has so far been a rocky one, with the main problem being finding a game that succeeds in both atmosphere and gameplay. Resident Evil had the atmosphere while missing the gameplay, while Resident Evil 4 had the opposite problem. The idea of Clock Tower 3 sounds like it should nail atmosphere perfectly and I hoped the gameplay would be realized more effectively. Alas, it seems me and Capcom horror games aren't too compatible, as this is yet another game that I find more frustrating than anything.

Before I delve into how it plays though I'll cover the presentation. In terms of graphics the character models are relatively good in quality. Alyssa inparticularly works well, with the schoolgirl uniform crafted well and she manages to convey emotions quite well, especially when she's scared out of her wits. Other starring characters are quite good too, like the stalkers that prowl the different levels hunting for the player. Animation, on the other hand, feels a little floaty, like characters and levels aren't firmly rooted together. It's not too bad though and you can expect a wide range of actions.

The level design is fairly good although perhaps not as impressive as what we've seen on the PS2. Part of this may well be the camera setup, which tends to be relatively zoomed out in a lot of instances and usually angled in specific directions which can make it hard to appreciate the scenery. Otherwise you can expect to visit a number of locations like Alyssa's mansion home, streets of London and what appears to be underground sewers, amongst others.

Music is OK. In order to try and create tension the game sparingly use tracks and throws in a signature "stalker" number to let you know when it's not safe in the current area. Of course, this does have the unfortunate side effect of alerting you to danger and thus reducing the actual scare factor. While the tracks are fitting there's just something that makes it not stand out. The voice acting is pretty good though, especially as the characters sound like they are from England and put the tension across in the voicework.

The story is probably one of the weird aspects. The story revolves around Alyssa, who has been living at a boarding school for much of her life but one day gets a strange letter from her mother frantically warning her to go into hiding prior to her 15th birthday. Therefore like any teenager she promptly does the opposite and goes home, only to get dragged into a supernatural disaster spanning several time periods as she is forced to face off against evil entities and discover the secrets of the evil that threatens her.

So far that's pretty good, and each chapter brings with it some interesting backstory to that particular big nasty. What doesn't work as well are the elements that make it descend into magical girl territory. I'm less inclined to take things seriously when the story insists that the forces of evil are battled solely by girls in their teens apparently summoning magic bows out of nowhere, which would be fine in a magical girl focused tale but is a problem in a game that is obviously trying for a more grounded supernatural approach taking itself seriously.

Unlike other games of the genre, CT3 is very clearly split into chapters with locations typically specific to each chapter. The overall goal is usually to find a way to defeat the big bad of each area, but as you might expect of a schoolgirl Alyssa doesn't really have anything to fight these monsters with initially, so instead she has to find a way to bring rest to each one's special victim in order to cut off their power supply and gain the means to destroy them.

What this presents is a rather unique setup where instead of slashing apart or gunning down hordes of enemies you typically only have the one to worry about. However, this stalker is pretty much invincible for most of each chapter forcing players to run and hide until the enemy searches elsewhere. That's not to say that Alyssa is completely defenceless though, but rather any actions taken to disable or evade him are only temporary. The main source of this is holy water, which can be splashed on a stalker to stun them for a few moments, although this is a very limited option since you have very little capacity, few refill points and it needs to be used for other things.

The environment plays a role as well in the form of hide and evade spots. Hide spots are used by Alyssa automatically when she is moved into one, where the view switches to first person allowing you to see the stalker look around fruitlessly for you. Evade spots are one use only and differ from hide spots in that they incapacitate the stalker immediately, usually giving you a bigger faster reprieve but obviously have the problem that once used they can't be triggered again.

The intention is obviously to try and instill some fear as an enemy relentless chases you throughout the level and it sounds good on paper, but unfortunately the execution simply does not translate into good gameplay. The biggest problem faced here is that the frequency of the stalker appearing is far too high. You can elude a stalker and hear him teleport away, only for him to reappear literally one room away from where you were hiding, which ends up creating a loop of frustration as progress is consistently hindered by an enemy you can't get rid of for long. It isn't fear when the player's thoughts upon hearing the stalker appear runs along the lines of "oh hell, he's here to impede my progress again".

It's not as if it's actually difficult either. The stalkers are really the only danger you'll face and there are rarely any times where you're at risk of a swift defeat at their hands. It's more frustrating as the only real course of action is to dash to the nearest hiding spot, which could end up being back the way you came, which does nothing to increase the difficulty and only makes it more tedious as you have to trek back and forth more often. The AI can be somewhat flaky as well. Several times I dived into a hiding spot in full view of the stalker, and only once did he realize this and force me out. Every other time he completely lost track of me and wandered around confused at my sudden disappearance.

How could Capcom make this more frustrating? How about a camera/control system that has barely improved from Resident Evil? Admittedly it is improved but it is still full of problems. Cameras do move but generally along "rails", meaning that they tend to only face one direction, make it impossible to see where you're going half the time and tend to throw in completely random direction changes. This last point makes controls awkward. Unlike RE the developers have decided to embrace analogue control, meaning that Alyssa moves exactly in the direction the stick is tilted. Awesome, I like this part. What is awkward is when you're running and the camera suddenly switches angles. The game tries to compensate by allowing Alyssa to continue running in the same direction, but this creates the odd scenario where you're now, for example, running left while holding right. Trying to figure out how to turn in this situation generally means stopping in order to reset the stick direction and be able to change direction, which is irritating when a stalker is right on your tail and the camera changes angles often.

To set itself apart CT3 doesn't have a health gauge but rather a panic meter. Whenever Alyssa is feeling stressed this gauge fills, whereas when she is feeling safe it lowers itself. When the gauge completely fills she enter panic mode where she is unable to use any hiding places, runs erratically, has blurred vision and stops frozen in fear at times. This is the point where an attack by an enemy will cause a game over, so the point is to avoid getting stressed. It is certainly a more unique way of going about it and the effects of full blown panic are interesting, but it can be a little awkward though as, unlike a traditional health meter, she gets panicked even if the enemies attacks barely miss. On the other hand, her ability to take a sledgehammer over the head and the worse outcome being an increase in panic (when not outright fleeing for her life) does lessen the difficulty somewhat.

The puzzle elements in the game typically don't go above the classic "grab item A and take to location B" style established in the Resident Evil series. Getting past a locked door requires finding the key to it or figuring out that there's a secret switch requires finding a photo that reveals it. That is to say that the puzzles themselves aren't bad but nothing here is particularly outstanding and nothing is really going to challenge the mind. During your travels you will also run across other dead people whose spirits can be laid to rest as well for optional rewards to help you, which like the main victim in each level requires a specific item. Which isn't challenging because it's usually impossible to miss these items and blatantly obvious which goes to who.

Then there is backtracking. Oh yes, the stuck developer's solution to making short levels seem longer is to force us to trek through the exact same area multiple times. Which would be fine if there was anything interesting there, but when the only thing of note is that damn stalker forcing you away to the nearest hide spot then it quite obviously fails miserably.

When you do finally have the item needed to lay the special victim to rest you are generally ambushed by the stalker and get the chance to defeat them. Alyssa does this by invoking her magical girl powers and going through her transformation sequence while the enemy helpfully stands around waiting for her to finish. OK, slight exaggeration... she doesn't literally transform but the rest is pretty accurate, as silly as it sounds. The holy water bottle transforms into an infinite use bow which she uses to inflict damage by shooting him while evading attacks. The bow can be charged to cause more damage and in some cases can pin the target in place. Manage to pin the target down with a spread of arrows and you can pull off a super attack for massive damage.

In the first place, these boss battles feel totally out of place. The reasoning is that her "special powers" are awoken by having the special item of the victim, but it still feels like the whole thing was pulled out of thin air and changes the theme entirely. What bothers me more, however, is that these fights are so horribly broken. Alyssa somehow has the aptitude to fire a bow but not quite enough to figure out how to change her aim, meaning that if the enemy sidesteps even an inch then your attack will miss completely, which can lead to some ridiculous runarounds as you try to lure the enemy into a position where they won't sidestep. Then you have to do this tons of times because they have a lot of health to deplete. These battles are ironically less frustrating than the earlier run and hide segments but they are still quite poor.

That's really all I can say about it. The idea sounds great but the game is just so terribly frustrating and boring that I really didn't care about it in the end. Instead of fear the game only manages to instill irritation by using poorly implemented game mechanics and layering on broken survival horror staples that didn't work the first time they were used.

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