Clock Tower (PlayStation) review
"Of course, graphic adventures don’t boast a murderer who randomly pops out of lockers, down chimneys, and from other seemingly innocuous places looking to decorate the walls with fresh entrails.
September 1995 - Romsdaaren, Norway.
A small group of adolescent girls are lured into the gloomy Barrows Mansion, hunting grounds of a hideously deformed little boy wielding a giant pair of scissors. One by one they discover a fate of horror, agony, and ultimately death until Jennifer Simpson, the only survivor, is able to overcome the odds and send both this “Scissorman” and his even more grotesque twin to their brutal ends. These vile killings are to become known as the Clock Tower murders, a case so furiously sensationalized by the media that the late Scissorman almost instantly becomes a symbol of terror to teenagers across Norway.
One year later.
The horrifying murders have once again begun to occur, each victim’s flesh savagely ripped open with the telltale bloody shears. The police dub it the work of a deranged copycat inspired by the media frenzy . . . or has the Scissorman somehow survived his grisly finale - and will he finally get his revenge on poor Jennifer?
Few indeed are games which can quite compare with the likes of Clock Tower 2. Don’t let the title fool you; a continuation of the original release for Super Famicom, it was marketed simply as “Clock Tower” outside Japan, understandably causing considerable confusion among fans of the series even to this day. However, while those who have already finished that chapter will certainly better appreciate (and understand) all the twists and turns of a plot already in progress, it isn’t necessary to have so much as heard of the original Clock Tower in order to immediately grasp just what makes this game a special one: assuming control of multiple characters, you’re thrust from the everyday into a world of the occult while exploring various menacing locales . . . and being stalked by a gruesome serial killer seemingly at every turn.
Whereas the first game unfolded entirely within the dark halls of the mansion, this new horror is split into three out of four possible scenarios beginning in the formerly secure campus of Oslo University and following the Scissorman’s sinister past across the sea to a sprawling stone castle in England. As Jennifer or her guardian Helen, you must find a way to escape your predicament using a tried and true point-and-click system common to graphic adventures on the PC. Of course, such adventures don’t boast a murderer who randomly pops out of lockers, down chimneys, and from other seemingly innocuous places looking to decorate the walls with fresh entrails. That’s right, Scissorman can lurk anywhere and appear randomly at any time, so just because that locker was empty the last time doesn’t mean it will be this time; even if you stick to the halls or stay put in an empty room, you’ll find that he’ll come looking for you. Now, how do you suppose one might possibly overcome this killer? Guns, perhaps? Nope. Crack ninja skills? Forget it. Summoning a rampaging swarm of insects with your rapidly emerging psychic powers? Not even close.
No, you run. Flee from the gleeful maniac, take refuge in one of the many hiding places available and hope he doesn’t manage to find you. In a new feature, you can also temporarily turn the tables; some rooms contain various one-time makeshift weapons that can be used to abuse attacker ranging from a bottle of ammonia in the eyes to a trusty umbrella applied liberally upon the skull. Emitting an inhuman wail, Scissorman will either be left incapacitated or sent fleeing from the area, and you will be safe from his wrath . . . for now. Of course, not every weapon is enough to put him down, your hiding place won’t always work, and he’ll definitely catch on if you resort to the same spot one too many times, so should you find yourself cornered with no means of escape you can wildly mash the Panic Button to get away, although he will remain in hot pursuit. Keep in mind that every successful use of this button also causes your stamina to decrease; luckily it’s gradually replenished with time, but allow yourself to fall prey to the killer without any stamina left and . . .
But since Scissorman appears only at night, Jennifer or Helen must also while away the daylight hours that precede each scenario by moving about on a map of Oslo and initiating lengthy dialogues with the various supporting characters in order to progress the story. The occasional choices you make during these intermissions can affect how the game will unfold, including the location and protagonist of the second scenario, but are so dull and slow-paced that they quickly become monotonous on subsequent replays. Unfortunately, the game’s flaws don’t quite end there – the visuals are somewhat lackluster; upgrading to a fully polygonal engine has replaced the ominous hand-drawn sprites of its predecessor with rough-looking, sterile environments and blocky character models. However, even if it lacks some of the original’s finer touches (such as discernible facial expressions), the switch to 3D is definitely for the better as it results in dynamic camera angles to follow your character’s movements and close in during tense moments, making for an impressive cinematic feel. Your explorations will meanwhile take place in absolute silence save for your character’s footsteps, creaking doors, and other such normal (or not so normal) sounds. A creepy piano composition will accompany your discovery of something relevant to the Scissorman mystery, and should something appear to be out of the ordinary, perhaps a disemboweled woman slumped in the bathroom stalls, you’ll be greeted by an unsettling tune as you nervously determine if your character is truly alone . . . and when you least expect it the hushed atmosphere will be interrupted by the stirrings of a frenzied beat as the Scissorman begins to limps after you, always with his scissors hungrily scraping together in anticipation – SHING! SHING! SHING!
Important scenes, including much of chapter 3, are further punctuated with the addition of voice actors for the character dialogue. The quality of this acting is, as you might expect, utterly laughable; character voices are over the top, awkwardly inflected, and horribly cheesy, resulting in a B-movie experience that’s very much like the first Bio Hazard. Such is the fate of the low-budget production . . . or so you’d think; bizarrely, the Japanese version also features English dialogue – completely different English dialogue. Yes, all of the voice-overs were re-recorded using the same group of actors for the domestic release, which wouldn’t have been all that unusual except that the dialogue in the import version is significantly better than that of their subsequent effort! Barring a few exceptions (namely Beth – or as I prefer to call her, “awful”), the original recording is far less comical and actually rather decent; why Human would go out of their way to change perfectly viable voice work into “master of unlocking” antics is truly baffling, but the next game in the series, Ghost Head, instead splurges on Japanese dialogue recorded with professional seiyuu for the import while once again sticking it to everyone else.
With only three scenarios per game this sequel still runs on the short side, but like its sire it allows for multiple outcomes, here a total of ten divided evenly between Helen and Jennifer and dependent on your actions over the course of the game; in the two worst cases you won’t even make it to the final chapter. Likewise, your actions may also see you playing as assistant inspector Gotts or trashy “no really, I’m not a pedophile” reporter Nolan, and completing everything unlocks a number of noteworthy hidden options including secret outfits as well. Thus as a longer and more complicated beast compared to its predecessor, Clock Tower 2 is a welcome continuation of what is arguably the original console world of survival horror – it may not flaunt showy firearms and flesh-eating zombies, but you won’t much care as you flee into the darkness and begin madly punching buttons to bring down and escape into the safety of that nearby elevator. For that, you see, is when you’ll realize that he’s already in the elevator.
Let’s play, Jennifer . . .
Staff review by Sho (July 16, 2004)
Sho enjoys classic video games, black comedy, and poking people until they explode -- figuratively or otherwise. He also writes a bit.
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