Genre: Point-and-Click Horror
It is with a heavy sigh that I start this review. I am a huge fan of (most of) the Clock Tower series, as I may have mentioned in past reviews. When I found Clock Tower 2 in an Electronics Boutique way back when, I scrounged to buy it. When Clock Tower 3 was announced, I hunted it down as soon as possible. When a project was announced with the name “Project Scissors” involving Hifumi Kono, the creator of the Clock Tower series, I was eagerly anticipating the outcome from the Kickstarter.
When NightCry, the result of that Kickstarter, was released, I immediately dug into the materials I could before buying it. The concept art was pretty, the screenshots looked intriguing- everything about this made me want to dive right in and check out the spiritual successor. The team seemed to be making this a labor of love, as well, with a strong desire to get back to the Clock Tower feel.
Did the game end up living up to my personal hype, though? Did it live up to the original games and their admittedly fluctuating quality?
NightCry’s story begins on the Oceanus, a cruise ship housing a group of students from North America who were studying abroad and are now returning home. As the ship makes its return voyage, however, strange things begin to happen, both supernatural and deadly. People begin dying in grisly ways, and as the trip continues, the students and faculty on board work to solve the mysteries of their situation to try to survive.
Playing out much like the Playstation Clock Tower, you play as multiple characters over the course of the game- Monica Flores, an opportunistic young woman and member of the ‘Bitch Brigade’ group, Professor Leonard Cosgrove, a protective and caring instructor to the students, and Rooney Simpson, a girl with a reputation for suicidal tendencies and antisocial mannerisms. The characters do get some manner of development through the events of the game and the supporting cast, and in the end, even if some of the character fleshing out feels forced, the characters do get some depth before the end credits (whether they survive or not).
The game’s interface is simple. Much like many of the games in the series, NightCry returns to the point-and-click adventure roots that made the game so unique in the first place. As you run into puzzles and situations, the items that you find and pick up can be used to progress throughout the story, and many of them will effect how the scenarios progress and which endings are accessed. Exploration is key and while occasionally looking in the wrong place might find you being pursued by the Scissorwalker, this game’s remorseless stalker, reading certain papers or experiencing certain events are integral to survival.
While it is rare to be able to fight back- characters must use the environment to defend themselves should they find themselves running from the Scissorwalker- characters can find hiding spaces to tuck into. Word to wise, though, never hide in the same place twice. Should you run out of stamina or find yourself physically confronted by something that requires fighting back or composing yourself, a ‘quick time event’ will occur. This usually consists of clicking rapidly in a certain spot or lining up your cursor with a moving target, but should you fail, it’s curtains. While these are rarely too difficult for most players, they can drag on enough sometimes to make the sequence tense.
Unfortunately, the game falters in a few areas, largely in the story and sequencing. While the story’s basis is classic horror, it feels like the story tries hard to fit in as many genres as it can without much in the way of connecting them. This could be in part due to the disjointed structure of the game, as the narrative feels like it jumps from spot to spot and a lot of events happen ‘off screen’, leaving gaps that need to be filled or fill in strangely. This results in some confusion concerning timelines, event sequences, and other continuity problems. Between these issues and the various types of terror that are thrown at the player, the actual story becomes muddled and difficult to follow on anything more than a surface level.
One of the other issues- and a glaring one, at that- is the camera. While it is fine while moving through the exploration and slow-paced traveling scenes, it sometimes comes crashing down during the chase sequences. As this is a horror game, you can imagine that comes up quite a bit. Specifically in the scenarios aboard the Oceanus, should you go into the wrong door, you may find yourself with a disorienting view or a claustrophobic camera angle in a corner that leaves you doing the equivalent of a three point turn to escape. By the time you figure out which way is up, your poor character has wound up on the wrong end of some giant scissors.
Another thing you won’t be able to look past easily is the lack of polish on the game, technically speaking. The loading times and pauses in some of the conversations are long, causing odd lulls in conversation and some otherwise tense situations presented by the story. On rare occasion, the game even crashed, causing a need to reload the game and pickup from the most recent checkpoint. Another known glitch is that the inventory, during the tutorial, doesn’t always load. This causes a need to do the same thing. A number of times, I had to restart the game to get the game to work properly.
We’ll get to the other issues once we get to the presentation part of our program. The game has some good points, too, despite my somber tone going into this. The game really does feel like a love letter to the Clock Tower series, and there are a lot of similarities. ‘The Bitch Brigade’ and Rooney feel a lot like the original cast from The First Fear. Returning to the giant scissors as the iconic stalking weapon brought chills of excited familiarity. Your character’s stamina running low as you are pursued, the edges of the screen pulsing scarlet as you try to find a hiding place- everything makes for moments of fear strewn throughout the over-the-top death scenes and isolation of the environments. NightCry, at its core, is a great B-Movie.
Love letter aside, the game’s presentation is not a high point. Visually, the game is fine for the most part. It is reminiscent of the graphics in earlier Dreamcast games, graphically. Everything feels a bit too exaggerated and has some strange physics (just watch Monica’s hair take on a life of it’s own as she runs). The low point for the character models is the running, which looks awkward and unnatural for all three characters you play as. On the other hand, the environments look good. Everything is just colorful enough to be interesting and just sterile and shadowed to be off-putting.
The audio is a mixed bag, as well. The ambient noise and the actual soundtrack is solid. This is a soundtrack I could see using for some background listening while reading or writing, which is a bonus to me as a video game music enthusiast. Sound effects from the banal to the more “squelch-y” are also crisp and clear. The real blemish on the soundscape is the uneven voice acting. Some of the voices are pretty spot-on, specifically with the main characters and Jerome, a passenger who befriends Rooney and is a target of affection for Monica. Some of the supporting cast, however, is so over the top that it deters from the scene and, in effect, the game’s tone.
Long story short, NightCry doesn’t deliver the scares and atmosphere that other horror games in recent years have. If you’re looking for a seamless game that is going to creep you out, you may want to look elsewhere. If you’re a fan of the Clock Tower series, you may get some enjoyment out of this, but it may come at the cost of some frustration and from particular scenes and sequences rather than the game as a whole. This game is a labor of love from a team that clearly knows the genre but have dressed it in all of the trappings of Playstation era gaming, for better or worse. As much as it pains me to say, though, I find it hard to recommend picking this game up unless it is on sale or otherwise below its full price.