Monday, October 22, 2012

Clock Tower: The Scariest Game Ever Made

On a Halloween-themed episode of the Jimquisition, Destructoid’s Jim Sterling brought up an interesting point regarding horror games, and I think he was right on the money.  However, I was somewhat disturbed that he only gave a passing mention to the game Clock Tower, because it deserves more credit than that.  Clock Tower (that’s the original SNES game, not the first one released in America on the PS1) is the scariest game I have ever seen.  It’s not like today’s games with proper controls, extensive voice acting, and fun gameplay.  After all, it’s an SNES game, but, as Jim explained, it’s the distinct lack of those features that make it so effective.  I have felt more true terror watching someone else play Clock Tower than I have felt actually playing the Resident Evil remake and Silent Hill: Shattered Memories.  To summarize, these are 4 things Clock Tower has going for it that makes it so much scarier than games today.

1. Gritty graphics

Jim already covered this trait with his brief look at the Friday the 13th game, and the same concept applies to Clock Tower.  The graphics are gritty, dark, and not pleasing to look at.  Through the game, you discover the dead bodies of all your friends who are killed in different ways.  The 16 bit SNES is able to portray them with a degree of photorealism, but the pixilation of the old images creates an unsettling and unfamiliar atmosphere that puts them somewhere on the slope down the uncanny valley.  The dead bodies you find all get close-ups that are absolutely horrifying, and I can only imagine how scary they must’ve looked to gamers back in the day the game was made.  This is the big factor in what makes the original Clock Tower scarier than its PS1 sequel, which is full of bright colors and goofy-looking polygons.  The graphics only add to the bizarre and unnatural imagery found throughout the game’s setting.

At least there weren't any plagas in this one.

2. You’re in control and defenseless

In Clock Tower, you do not play as a S.T.A.R.S. member prepared for combat situations nor a space man with badass buzz saw launchers.  You are a teenage girl with no weapons and almost no means of defense.  All your friends are dead, and there’s a creepy child with a giant pair of hedge clippers in the house that can come out at any time and cut you in half (though the game never shows that).  You can’t fight him.  All you can do is run.  Run and panic.  That and pray you don’t get cornered in a room with only one door, because then the odds of escape are even slimmer.  You can tussle with the freak and possibly knock him down temporarily or hide from him, but it’s usually not a good idea.  And unlike a slasher film, where you know the crazed murderer will be defeated somehow in the end, the heat is on in Clock Tower, because whether or not you get that ending is entirely determined by you: the player, and unless you cheat and look things up online, you don’t have any idea how it will end.  It is that tension that demonstrates the emotional potential of games as an interactive storytelling medium.

3. Silence

In games these days, we usually hear something at nearly all times.  Maybe a side character talking, zombies groaning, the echo of our own footsteps, and the sounds of lightning from the weather.  But in Clock Tower, there is next to nothing.  There are only a few sound effects, no music to distract from the isolation except for fear music when being chased (raising the tension further), and no voice acting to give the player a familiar human voice.  It is nothing but the cold sound of silence ringing in your ear along with footsteps and your character's beating heart until the scare chord plays to shock you even more than whatever it’s accompanying, breaking the silence and telling you it’s a good time to be afraid.
Regarded as one of the game's best moments.

4. Scissorman

As a playable slasher movie, Clock Tower has one of the most effective slasher villains I’ve ever seen.  The main enemy of Clock Tower is Bobby Barrows, also known as Scissorman.  He’s a strange, deformed little boy who wanders the mansion the characters moved into with a giant pair of scissors (that I might as well call hedge clippers), giving him the moniker “Scissorman.”  His schtick is pretty simple.  He can come from anywhere at any time and just walks toward you, snapping his scissors together the entire time.  You’d think that since he merely walks, you can outrun him, but he moves surprisingly fast, and it’s not helped by the main character not being very athletic herself.  To make matters worse, it’s possible to trip while running, no doubt leading to players shouting obscenities while their heart races and the sound of scissors comes ever closer.

Much of this montage demonstrates just what I mean by "anywhere".  He more or less teleports!

Even further adding to fear is the fact that Scissorman is actually a small child, activating some kind of primal fear we have about children not having a proper conscience.

I think I know why the front yard looks so neat.

All of this contributes to why Clock Tower is the scariest game I have ever seen.  Even the great horror titles of the last generation haven’t matched its horrific brilliance and subtleties.  With any luck, the game will receive a Virtual Console release, and underwear manufacturers will profit from it.

1 comment:

  1. Nice write up. Personally never played this. Wasn't there later 3D versions on the pc or playstation? Guess I'll have to look into that, because something is clicking in my head.