Version tested: PlayStation 2
The most likely question you'll have as you stare at this review is 'where were the other Clock Towers?' Indeed, despite our advancing years and encyclopaedic knowledge of gaming obscurities, this series has managed to completely pass us by, and for good reason. The first version sold all of 1,500 copies in the UK five years ago, and the second wasn't even released here, so forgive our total ignorance. Suffice to say they were PlayStation-only point and click adventures that apparently didnít go down too well, so the series has been dragged into more contemporary survival horror territory.
Teenagers eh? When will they learn?
As a result, Clock Tower 3 feels instantly at home in Capcom's catalogue, albeit with a more Silent Hill/Project Zero psychological edge than the B-movie kicks of Resident Evil. The game starts in present day London and stars a 14-year-old Catholic boarding schoolgirl Alyssa, who one day receives a letter from her mother urging her to go into hiding immediately. This seems somewhat odd, especially given that she has been holed up at the school without seeing her mum since she was eight.
As she reads the letter, she receives a phone call - supposedly from her mum - but Alyssa is somewhat spooked when there's a wall of silence at the other end. But rather than heed her mother's advice, she heads straight back home and straight into a thickening, time travelling plot to uncover the mystery of her mother's disappearance.
Fans of survival horror games will be immediately at home with CT3; you wander around dark and mysterious locations, picking up objects, absorbing scraps of the thickening plot with the overall aim of laying to rest the spirit of whatever evil serial murderer has decided to stalk you.
With firearms clearly useless against these Stalkers, you're forced to use more spiritual means of dispatching your foe, and must seek out a sentimental item of theirs to finally put an end to their evil ways. But while you're being chased around the level from pillar to post, Alyssa can only take so much Scooby Doo antics and will literally freak out if these spooks get too close to her. Rather than have an energy bar, our heroine possesses a Panic Meter that rises whenever she sees something a bit scary.
Big girl's blouse
Luckily for her there are various means of keeping her sanity in check, and the game provides clearly defined hiding places that she can duck into to avoid her pursuers, and hitting the circle button will send Alyssa scurrying behind a conveniently placed object. Better still, the occasional one off 'Safe Point' will allow her to evade Stalkers completely, even if they are right on her tail. The game switches to a nervous first person mode, and it's quite comical to see your pursuer looking baffled at your sudden disappearance. Although we appreciate they're a necessary gaming mechanic, they hardly inspire credibility.
The usual proliferation of locked doors bar your progress, in true survival horror style, but in this instance they're barred with seals that can be removed with Holy Water for some unfathomable reason. As you'd expect, fountains litter the game (how handy!) and these double up as save points, which you can use an unlimited number of times. There are also the inevitable bosses, which you have to dispatch with a Bow and Arrow of all things. So far so survival horror.
The gameplay viewpoint takes the traditional third person stance, and instantly reminded us of Silent Hill, both in its slightly grainy visual style and similar sweeping camera mechanics. As a long time advocate of Konami's take on the genre, this certainly comes as a pleasant surprise for a Capcom release, and many of the Resident Evil quibbles are removed as a result. Artistically, however, it comes nowhere near the level of either, despite some exceptionally well-realised cut scenes. The general standard of detail in game is merely functional by comparison, while the somewhat floaty animation doesn't always fit in with the backdrops as convincingly as it should.
An unholy combat system
The combat mechanics feel all too restricted too, with holy water only able to stun your foe. Apart from the odd pre-scripted occasion (such as the use of the fire poker on Chapter 2), there are very few instances that allow you to properly fight back, while the boss encounters force Alyssa to stand totally still while charging the bow and arrow. The rest of the time you'll being chased by that Chapter's restless ghouls, which generally makes it feel quite empty, and also conspire to make it all the harder to find whatever object the game demands that you find due to the pressure of needing to get the hell out of wherever you are. Initially it can be quite tense to have to flee, but soon you'll be royally fed up by the fact that they can deal with stairs much quicker than you, thus depleting any lead you might have built up.
Irritating chase sequences aside, Clock Tower 3 will never challenge the more experienced gamer to any great degree, and the five chapters can be ripped through fairly easily within six or seven hours. The wonderfully directed cut scenes from Kinji Fukasaku combined with the decent plot without doubt give players plenty of incentive to keep plugging away, but despite the obvious quality on display the real meat of the game seems to lack that something extra to demand a glowing recommendation.
Given the recent heavyweight releases of Resident Evil Zero, Silent Hill 3 and the strong arrival of Project Zero, it's fair to say that Clock Tower 3 lags behind them all, but not by a crippling margin. Real hardcore fans of atmospheric survival horror adventures will still get plenty of enjoyment from this latest fix, but the rest of you should check out the aforementioned trio before you consider dipping your toes into the world of Alyssa and the army of the undead.
6 / 10