I’m a huge fan of the classic Clock Tower series- and so because of that, I’m sure I’m a little partial. If you’re a fan too, you might get a kick out of this new game by Hifumi Kono. It’s a little pricey, but the Italian/Japanese horror inspirations and subtextual motifs make for a fantastic experience. If you’re not familiar with the Clock Tower franchise, you’re only going to see a buggy, annoying, poorly-paced and abysmally-written experience; and you aren’t wrong. As cool as the Scissorwalker is, the game simply doesn’t make the cut.
WHAT WE LIKED
º The game’s tone and mood, while campy and dumb, can be very creepy.
º Masahiro Ito’s designs are top notch, especially the Scissorwalker.
º The game’s soundtrack is very tense, putting you on edge as you play.
WHAT WE DISLIKED
º Storyline, dialogue, performance, and animations are all laughably bad.
º No saving, and the game’s chapter system is extremely annoying.
º The control system and gameplay mechanics are very buggy.
Full Disclosure: Trevor Anderson supported NightCry’s IndieGoGo campaign.
When I heard about NightCry, I had a wave of childhood-inspired excitement overwhelm me. The Playstation’s Clock Tower was my go to scary rental from my neighborhood shop when I was a kid, and my admiration has continued into my adult years. That being said- it’s not a great game. I’d be hard pressed to even call it a good game. Using a d-pad controller and a cursor, you click your way through the blocky 3D environments as a man with a giant pair of scissors chases after you. It didn’t take itself too seriously, but just enough to make it feel believable. So, when the game’s original director announced a spiritual successor to his successful series, I threw in my buck o’ five and waited patiently for what looked like an experience matching the original game’s quality. It does- in all the good ways and all the embarrassingly awful ones too.
The first thing you’re going to notice, so I’m going to get out of the way, is how ugly this game is. I mean, this experience isn’t just bad looking, but it’s filled with technical shortcuts as well. Your characters either runs around like they’re looking for the nearest restroom or as if they were raptors with scoliosis. Monica, the beautiful and lifeless blonde, has hair that looks more like Venom’s symbiote costume than anything human. People will have auditory dialogue, but the animators have decided to pay it no lip service. Characters use their cell phone flashlights by magically suspending them just outside of their intangible hands. The graphics look much better than the Kickstarter footage but ends up feeling like a mere gloss over when it needed a couple more shades of paint and a few more nails. Then again, who needs a good run cycle when they’ve got such an amazing boob cycle?
The story starts on a really bad note, a decision I will never quite understand. The game opens cold on a luxury cruiser crossing the bleak sea, and for some reason set in the near future. The game also, for some reason, doesn’t think it needs to establish characters or the purpose for the cruise. You just start out as a drunk woman, talking to some bellboy who’s using a pair of scissors to cut up a dress- something he says he enjoys as much as torturing bugs. Guess they wanted to throw in a red herring before you meet the ‘owner’ of the ship, who uses a bunsen burner to sanitize his prosthetic eye. Monica, of course, is more concerned about the name of the tool as opposed to why there’s a creepy old man boiling an eyeball in a bar. Like a typical, vapid damsel, the whole experience isn’t nearly as thought-out as it should be. I will say however, the game changes protagonists throughout, and it isn’t until the end when you play as Rooney Simpson that the game takes a turn for the absolute better.
Rooney is a young introverted girl, who’s harassed by her fellow cultural anthropology students as they make their way back home from some fieldwork. That’s where the big mistake comes in- they introduce the crew of students, purpose of the cruise and the most interesting character at a little over halfway through the game. I had no interest in saving the selfish Monica and didn’t perk up until the suicidal Rooney nearly throws herself from the ship as a ghostly girl eggs her on. Why would you not lead with such an interesting and dynamic persona? Oh, right- I forgot about Monica’s assets. Because the developers decided to ignore a flowing narrative, the game fails in almost every single way, and only redeems itself in the third act; yet ending in a limp-wristed and uninspired way.
One thing I always loved about the original Clock Tower was its multiple endings. While they weren’t amazing, they rewarded diligent sleuths for their thoroughness and perseverance. NightCry does things differently, and sadly it’s not as rewarding or as convenient. The game drops saving randomly in favor of a chapter-based system. At first, this seems like a great idea, but it became a nightmare all of its own. When you die- and you will die- the game forces you start back at the beginning of the chapter. Some of these chapters can last quite a long time until you hit the next save point, so losing all of your progress can be quite enraging; allow me to recap my first bit of gameplay.
I start out strong, taking the Scissorwalker out with various fire extinguishers and cans of mace, but then get trapped when I thought I could hide under a bed. In order to fight off the Scissorwalker, you have to tap a button on the screen rapidly. This button, sadly, landed on the bed’s icon and kept attempting to put me under the bed, causing me to eventually die. Back to the beginning. So I play a little further only to have the game crash on a QTE. Back to the beginning. I try to run from the Scissorwalker, as the camera sweeps, I accidently run back into her giant shears. Back to the beginning. Once again, I get pretty far, jump in a closet, only to magically teleport back out and without the button I’m supposed to tap to fight off my pursuer. Back to the beginning. It wasn’t until I got on an elevator, finally heading to a new floor, that the game threw me a scene with an old woman floating around me, and a triangle with an exclamation point in the middle. The game hasn’t informed me of what I’m supposed to do, so I click the triangle, only to find out that I’ve died once again due to either technical problems or lack of information. Believe me when I say, the fear quickly diminishes when you’re forced to replay 40 minutes of the game over and over. When you repeatedly watch the same idiot get sucked into a soda machine, you start to notice all the problems and lack of polish. Oh, Gregory- we barely knew thee. Honestly, I have no idea who he was.
NightCry also has one segment where you watch one of the main characters get attacked, followed by 20 minutes of unskippable exposition, only to be faced with a thirty-minute gauntlet of additional gameplay before you’ll hit another chapter checkpoint. It sucks all the paranoia out of the game when I figured out all the tricks and fastest paths in order to get back to where I was before my last unsatisfying death. Your villain just becomes an obstacle and not a menacing fear. Even worst, the game has unavoidable death sequences called “Dead Ends,” where you can make the mistake of clicking on a supposed hiding spot, only to die regardless of how you react- again, sending you back to the beginning. Walk into a room without your cell phone’s flashlight on, and you’ll die to an unseen creature, sending you- ah, you get it. Honestly, not having the save system makes you tearfully afraid not for your character, but for all the time you’re going to lose because the developers don’t think we can handle a save system along with checkpoints.
It also doesn’t help that everyone, besides Rooney, is dumber than a sack of rocks. There’s no subtlety to anyone, and they all just say whatever flashes across their insipid frontal lobes. Monica, who witnesses several murders, must’ve really loved Jurassic World, because despite her constantly falling over like a newborn deer, she continues wearing her stiletto heels. Or how about this scene, where two main characters come across a locked door, only for Monica to take a wooden stick and continually hit it, when there’re tons of breakable windows surrounding it. She needs to look at a map before being able to take down a velvet-roped stairway. I mean, honestly- doesn’t someone this stupid deserve to die?
Despite all these problems, I honestly can’t deny it- I have a soft spot for this type of game. It’s like a bad movie, where even the faults don’t outweigh the charm. The nonsensical deaths, the ludicrous story and tons of branching options just make this series a guilty pleasure for me. I won’t deny that this entry isn’t my favorite, but it isn’t the worst either. I can’t wait to get frustrated all over again when I try to unlock everything the game has to offer. Am I a glutton for punishment? Perhaps- but the same could be said for the Souls series, and the team at Nude Maker demands that you ‘get good’ at their wonky gameplay.
The audio is a mixed bag. On one hand, you have some fantastically moody music, composed by the Metal Gear Solid veteran Nobuko Toda. Her arrangements, while maintaining the essence of her previous work with Konami, would fit in just fine with the best Silent Hill games. On the other hand, you have some of the laziest voice acting I’ve heard in a modern game. It doesn’t help that the dialogue is crap, but these actors barely seem to mind how ludicrous they might sound. Donna Burke, the voice actress who did the voice for iDroid in MGSV and Angela in Silent Hill 2, really doesn’t have a lot of lines, or really delivers anything truly memorable. The exception to these lackluster performances is Soness Stevens, who delivers a haunting performance as Connie, the creepy little girl who haunts Rooney.
In closing, this game should make you afraid. Not because of it’s exceptional creature designs and terrifying tone, but because of how broken the whole game feels. It simply looks and plays too much like an Alpha build to be fully appreciated. While the developers met the requirements to fulfill the fundraising promises, I can’t help but feel they pushed out an incomplete game with missing elements and placeholder animations. It may get better in the future as they’ve already updated the game since I started writing this review, but I’m reviewing the game it is now, and sadly it’s not the game it could’ve been.