Halloween is right around the corner, so what better way to celebrate than with a look back at what I felt was one of the most frightening games that went mostly overlooked? There was a time when Capcom was the leader of the survival horror genre. Back when it wasn’t uncommon for dinosaurs to chase us, grotesque monsters to make us cower in fear and for Resident Evil games to actually be scary, Capcom and developer Sunsoft decided to take their next game in a different direction. Along came Clock Tower 3, a game that left you completely helpless to defend yourself much like some of the greatest scary movies, which is why I feel this was survival horror in its purest sense.
At the beginning of the game, I recall that there were many familiar similarities between Clock Tower 3 and Capcom’s other horror games. The fixed camera angles and tank like controls that we somehow put up with back in the day were all here, so fighting off enemies was as much of a battle as fighting off awkward camera changes. But this is where the similarities ended. Instead of playing as a hardened military man or some kind of badass weapons expert who finds ways to carry shotguns, health packs and rocket launchers in his tiny pockets, you play as a London school girl named Alyssa Hamilton. She’s just about as average as you can imagine, which means that she has very little to save herself from the enemies trying to kill her. And the enemies are the highlight of the experience, because aside from a handful of ghosts, each stage has one serial killer chasing the girl through each locale.
As if the game wasn’t already breaking traditions enough already, it stood out further by eliminating health bars. So how can you die with no health bars you ask? Replacing health was a fear meter. Alyssa couldn’t actually get hurt, but if she gets too close to a ghost, if one of the killers gets close to her or if they take a shot at her with their weapon, a varying amount of fear would build up. Aside from a small amount of holy water to stun enemies when they’re near, the only way to keep from getting scared would be to hide in certain safe zones until the enemies would search for you somewhere else.
If you happened to suck at hiding and force Alyssa to fill her fear meter, she would go into “stupid horror movie teenager mode.” The music grew tense and the screen would flash red as this girl would automatically run forward while making the controls more sluggish. She would randomly trip, fall or freeze up while running for dear life, which really sucked because if she’s hit in this state, it’s a one hit kill. You know the frustration of yelling at on-screen horror movie characters who run upstairs or do things you would never do? Now you know why!
Of course, that’s not to say that Alyssa can’t dish out her own form of payback eventually. In order to make these killers vulnerable, she has to find clues, evidence and solve puzzles to unravel the mysteries behind the deaths of their victims, making a blue suited lawyer somewhere very proud in the process (Editor’s Note: Objection!). After putting their spirits to rest, each stage concludes in a boss fight, where the fear meter becomes a health bar and this average school girl becomes a holy warrior of justice! Trying to build enough distance to charge up enough energy into your bow was the real challenge, but each arrow tethered the bosses to the spot where they were hit, slowing them down enough to make further damage easier. Once sealed with enough arrows, the bastards would finally be locked away, never to be seen again. Or at least until the next time you start it over, which I did more times than I can remember.
With so many unique ideas, it’s surprising that this game wasn’t more popular. I mean, it had everything you would think a horror gamer could want. It had tense situations, a solid scare factor, plenty of gore and amazing graphics at the time. As far as why it wasn’t as popular as it should have been, I feel it came down to two things. One is a common problem, which was simply a lack of advertisement. I hadn’t even heard of this game until months after it came out when I watched trailers for it on G4’s Cinematech, (remember? Back when G4 was a video game channel?) The other reason was a backlash from fans of the previous two games. The original Clock Tower PS1 games were more stealth based, had a connected storyline and a completely different developer/publisher team. Not only was this game too much of a deviation for their tastes, but many felt that it should have been its own IP since it was so radically different. So once you don’t advertise to the masses, you then decide to alienate the installed fan base. There was really little stopping this game from falling flat.
But that doesn’t mean it’s too late to give Clock Tower 3 a chance this Halloween. It is a unique take on a genre that became way overdone at one point but that helps it stand out even in today’s world of Dead Island and Dead Space, (I’m sensing a pattern.) Aside from its spiritual successor, Haunting Ground, (which you should probably check out as well, considering it has a DOG in it,) or Silent Hill: Shattered Memories to a lesser degree, a horror game of this type hasn’t been attempted since. So remember to suit up in whatever super hero costume you’re planning on wearing on the 31st and run over to your nearest bargain bin to find this haunted gem. And make sure to bring the eggs if they don’t have it.