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Clock Tower 3

Review by Toger
May 2003

I should point out that I haven't played any of the other Clock Towers, so there will be no debate, contrast and compare, or discussion about the merits of 2D point-and-click versus prerendered and real-time 3D. Now that that's out of the way ...

Let me start by saying that Clock Tower 3 is a jaw-dropping, drool-inducing, stunningly beautiful game. Yes, I'm an admitted eye candy junkie. Watching this game fed my eye-candy habit as no game before it. There. I said it. Let's move on.

Clock Tower 3 is Capcom's newest entry into the adventure/action/survival/horror genre. It's not your typical survival/horror game. Instead of some buff, gun-toting, bad-ass heroine, Alyssa Hamilton is a tall, gawky teenager, unsure of herself and her surroundings and with no clue as to why these bizarre things are happening to her. She has no access to guns, knives, chainsaws or bazookas. Not even a heavy 2×4 with nails embedded in it. All she's got is running, hiding and a very pretty glass bottle of holy water, which she uses to sprinkle the twisted creatures that inhabit the game world. That sanctified water doesn't kill anything—it just stuns ... for a limited time ... usually, just enough time to find a hiding place.

As the game begins, Alyssa is your average 14-year-old boarding school denizen. She'd been sent away, without explanation, by her mother three years prior. Days before her 15th birthday, she receives a letter from her mother apologizing for sending her away, yet in the same breath telling her to go into hiding, once again with no reason, until after her birthday. A mysterious phone call from her mother sends her running for home to find out what's going on. When she arrives, her mother is nowhere to be found, but there is an odd man there who claims her mother is never coming back, and then ... he vanishes.

Progressing through Clock Tower 3, Alyssa will discover that she's from a long line of "rooders," special women destined to help tormented spirits who walk the earthly plane. As a rooder, it's her destiny to help these tortured souls find peace by helping to eliminate their pain, usually by finding a sentimental item such as a ring or locket that they lost in life. Sounds sorta like the female equivalent of a Schattenjäger. Unlike Gabriel Knight, once Alyssa realizes who she is and what she can do, she embraces it.

In the cutscene with the first mini-boss, Hammerman, Alyssa is falling all over herself to get away. She's scared spitless and has no clue what's going on. Later, she finds a diary explaining her heritage and bloodline. When she comes up against the next mini-boss, Corrodor (he has a penchant for throwing his victims in acid), she immediately starts throwing things and tells him that she'll destroy him. Talk about a strong female role model!

The production values for Clock Tower 3 are simply amazing. All of the cutscenes were motion-captured by Japanese director Kinji Fukasaku, making them lifelike in the extreme. The movement was so fluid it seemed as if I was watching real-life events unfold in front of me. In one of the early scenes, Alyssa has to scamper under a bombed-out double-decker bus to avoid falling bombs during the London blitz. Her movements are incredibly amazing. I was so awestruck that I forgot to move when the game returned control back to me.

In-game, the video is just as detailed and beautiful. The few times I was able to stop and take a breath and actually check out my surroundings, I was stunned. Curtains move in the breeze. You can see the characters' chests rise and fall as they drew breath. A hanging lamp swings ever so slightly as Alyssa walks about the room. When she runs, her hair flows out behind her or swings as she moved her head from side to side. Running up and down stairs, whichever hand is closest to the railing will reach out and skim the railing for balance. As she walks from one side of the front foyer to the other, the camera follows her, and you're temporarily blinded as the sun suddenly appears through the window above the door.

CT3's music is suitably creepy, dramatic, poignant, soothing and tension-inducing. The music reaches a crashing crescendo when Alyssa is being threatened by crazies. Sound effects work to ratchet up the terror. In ransacked rooms, glass crunches underfoot. Doors and drawers squeak as they open and slam shut.

Music and sound cues help tremendously when dealing with the killers in each of the chapters. Usually, when the dramatic music fades away, it is safe to come out of hiding—except when up against the Scissor-twins. Their AI is pretty sneaky. The music fades away, and it becomes deathly quiet. I'd move Alyssa out of hiding—in a bathroom stall, no less—and suddenly one of the slice-n-dice siblings would jump out and grab her! I have to admit that I loved them the best of all the mini-bosses. They were hilariously insane. (Okay, maybe hilarious isn't a word usually associated with insane, but you know what I mean.) And their costume of feathers, tights and giant scissors reminded me of demented performers from Cirque du Soleil, the French-Canadian circus troupe.

In lieu of a health meter, CT3 employs a panic meter. You'll need to keep Alyssa mellow in order to control her movements. If she's frightened by something—usually it involves her being physically affected—then her panic meter will start to rise. The meter will progress from green, which is just a smidgen scared, all the way to red, which is severely panicked. In panic mode, Alyssa will stumble, run into walls, cower and actually come to a complete standstill. If she's hidden when the meter goes off the charts, she will come out of hiding on her own. One hit in severe panic mode and it's game ovah! Resting in a quiet place or walking will help to calm her. You can also use lavender water, found in various places throughout the game, to immediately relax her. Who'd've thunk it? A video game using aromatherapy.

As with most console games, saving is done at save points. Wait! Don't run off. The save points are a little different in this game. You don't have to complete an entire level before you can save. Most of the areas you'll visit will have at least one, sometimes two, save points. You are free to use the save point as many times as needed ... I visited the save points after every little thing I accomplished, especially in the tougher chapters.

Did I mention that Clock Tower 3 is drop-dead gorgeous?

Voice work in Clock Tower 3 is very good. Compared to the last couple of console games I've played, the voice actors in this game deserve Oscars. Plus there's quite a bit of speech throughout the game. The majority of the in-game speech is subtitled. The only time it isn't is when the mini-bosses are chasing you—their little speeches are looped.

Guess what?! I loved the camera controls for this game. Everything is presented in a movie-like format—as the characters move across the scene the camera pans with them and changes the view, as it does when you're watching a movie. For example, if I'm pushing the controller away from me to move Alyssa forward, when the camera pans around to face her the control for her movement remains the same (away from me) even though she's coming toward me. There's no fiddling with another button to adjust the camera. Don't like that? Then you can stop her movement for a split second as the camera pans, and the controls will reset for the direction she's facing. Brilliant or what?

Almost forgot: Remember that pretty glass bottle for the holy water? It magically morphs into a spirit bow that Alyssa uses to shoot bolts of lightning at the mini-bosses. Pretty cool, eh? There is a downside to that mystical bow ... while powering it up, you cannot change your position. You just have to hope they'll keep coming at you head on, which they do ... in the first chapter. After that, everybody has a gimmick—be it weaving and bobbing, changing direction midstride or teleporting to the other side of the room.

Oh, by the way, this is a horror game. It's not so much gory as it is disturbing. One of the first images is that of a young girl being slammed in the head by a madman wielding an enormous sledgehammer. The game is rated "Mature." Believe it.

As breathtaking as Clock Tower 3 is to look at, the gameplay is somewhat ... blah. I think it was the sameness of it all—find an item, return said item to its owner, watch incredibly gorgeous cutscene, meet up with mentally unbalanced mini-boss, destroy him/her ... lather, rinse, repeat.

Also, I would've liked to have been able to stop and "smell the roses"—or at the very least admire the scenery (which was breathtaking!)—during the game instead of constantly running for my life. In some chapters, the things you need to accomplish in order to move the story along require picking up an item, splashing some holy water on whatever hellspawn is chasing you, running to replenish the holy water bottle that you've just noticed is on empty, splashing the damned critter, again, and wishing it would get a life, then running hell-for-leather back to the room where you need to complete the I've-finally-located-the-final-key-for-this-door-so-now-it-better-damn-well-open ritual and moving on to the next dramatic cutscene, all the while screaming "move, you silly cow!" at Alyssa.

Was I scared? Not like System Shock 2 scared me. CT3 did make me jump once or twice. Was the story compelling? Yes. I figured out who was behind it all well before Alyssa, but then I'm old enough to be her ... big sister. Did I have fun playing the game? You betcha. And that's what it's all about. The End

The Verdict

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The Lowdown

Developer: Capcom
Publisher: Capcom
Release Date: 2003

Available for: PlayStation 2

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