On the Flip Side of Innovation – Sony Playstation – Clock Tower II: The Struggle Within – 1999

Title.jpgClock Tower II: The Struggle Within
Sony Playstation
Human Entertainment/Ascii Entertainment
Genre: Point-and-Click Survival Horror
1999

Horror movies and games share a lot of similarities in structure, especially when it comes to sequels. In horror films, you may have the same Final Girl and killer for a film or two before you have to move onto a completely new set of characters. Most likely, though, a franchise will try to keep up a similar style of horror and tone for its duration, shifting only when it becomes vital to keep the series fresh and interesting. In similar fashion to films, horror games usually try to stick to their guns until they become too repetitive.

The Clock Tower series had established itself as a tense slasher game. Jennifer Simpson was our Laurie Strode, Scissorman acting as our Michael Myers, hellbent on destroying her and the lives around her. Like the first Halloween film, Clock Tower: The First Fear was a dark and atmospheric endeavor while Clock Tower on the Playstation was more like the second film. There was more of an emphasis on action and the slasher aspect, but it still kept the players’ hearts in their chests.

Clock Tower II: The Struggle Within is our Halloween III.

The real difference between those two works, though, is that there is an audience who appreciates Halloween III for what it was- a failed attempt at turning the franchise into an anthology that worked fine if it was considered on its own merits sans the Halloween name tag. In all of my memory hearing about The Struggle Within, though, I hadn’t heard one good thing about the game. No one was singing a solo of unappreciated merits in the overwhelming chorus of vitriol against it.

As someone who enjoys singing solos about certain games of that sort, I had to finally complete the one game in the Clock Tower mythos I hadn’t yet and see for myself if there was anything worth salvaging. 

Aunt Kathryn.jpg

The Tate family is just one group of people Alyssa will work to survive alongside

Plot
In the Spring of 1999, a young woman named Alyssa Hale sets off to visit some friends of her family in California. Alyssa is looking forward to spending time with her “Uncle” Philip, his wife and their three kids. While it’s less of a vacation and more of an escape, she’s looking forward to seeing the Tates and forgetting about home for a while.

See, while some folks might joke around and say that they are cursed, Alyssa expressing that might be a bit closer to the truth than most. Since childhood, she has shown signs of having another personality inside of her- a dark and murderous side who calls himself “Bates” and has caused such dread in her father, Allen, that he has outfitted her with a specially crafted amulet to keep him at bay. It appeared to be working well until one fateful day at her high school found Bates in full control, causing the deaths of a couple of bullies and giving her father no choice but to have her committed.

Whether to take her mind off of what happened or to hide her away for a time, Alyssa has been sent to stay with the Tate family, holding tightly to her amulet to keep her other half at bay. When she arrives at the house, however, nobody seems to be home. The residence is quiet and the warm welcome she expected is replaced with a cold and somber sense of foreboding. Her search through the Tate household to find out what happened to her acquaintances, however, is just the beginning of her horror- and she may need to count on her alter ego to help her survive the night.

Bates.jpg

Do you want to approach with Alyssa’s reason or a good kick in the stomach from Bates?

Mechanics
Sticking to the tried and true formula set up by the rest of the Clock Tower series, The Struggle Within dictates movement and exploration with a persistently present cursor that the player can move around using their controller or a Playstation mouse. When there’s a point of interest to be had, be it a doorway or a desktop, the cursor will transform into a reticle, surrounding the area so that it can be selected. The character will be chased by a number of enemies throughout the game, as well, during which the player will have to find some way to rid themselves of their stalker before they can continue. If they are caught, the player can tap the Square button to struggle and escape. They can only do this up to three times before running out of stamina and being unable to fight back. Thankfully, if this results in Alyssa being killed, the player can continue from the last room they entered with a recovered level of stamina.

Defense.jpg

George Maxwell is a fitting and effectively nerve-wracking pursuer

Where this game deviates from the first two Clock Tower games is in the mechanic surrounding Alyssa and her alter ego. While exploring as Alyssa, she will act in a familiar manner, looking for ways to defend herself as she’s chased with hiding spaces and objects in the environment. So long as she holds onto a particular item- a red amulet charm that she can put down in almost any hiding place, if she’d like- she will remain timid but resourceful. If she is confronted after she’s placed the amulet somewhere off of her person, she’ll transform into Bates, her violent and ruthless other half. As Bates, Alyssa is surrounded by a purple glow. While Bates can’t hide or use the environment to escape pursuit, he can dispatch enemies with firearms found throughout the game or, while struggling, can kick his assailant, sometimes stopping their chase.

Evasion methods aren’t the only differences between Alyssa and Bates, though. As you go through the events of The Struggle Within, interacting with characters as one or the other will result in different reactions, sometimes offering benefits later if the right personality is present in front of the right person. Other times, some events and characters won’t even occur if you don’t have the appropriate person front and center, so careful use of the amulet and putting Alyssa in danger can be important to achieve the result you’re looking for.

The Good, The Bad, And…
This mechanic, while interesting, leads to one of the worst parts of the game. You’ll never know which characters will react in what way to Alyssa or Bates. While the general idea would be that people who mean you harm should be approached as Bates and benevolent characters with Alyssa, this isn’t always the case. As I stated, there are times when people won’t show up when Bates is present, for instance. Some of those encounters, however, necessitate Bates showing up just in time to rescue Alyssa, so you can pick up the amulet to revert back to Alyssa, put it down again, and walk into the encounter. Unless you need to stay as Alyssa, even if you’re in danger. You need to have the amulet at that point. Certain conversations will also need a softer touch, necessitating your heroine’s true face being forward, but you won’t know that until the conversation’s over, which can result in losing the benefit from talking to that character. On paper, the switch between Bates and Alyssa is an interesting concept, but the amount of trial and error is ridiculous.

Don't Know.jpg

Here we see Bowman speaking on behalf of the audience

Outside of the first scenario, the game just doesn’t feel like a Clock Tower game due to both an inexplicable plot “twist” and the amount of tedium it takes to progress. While the first chapter is classic point-and-click horror, the second and third episodes rely heavily on the awkward shooting mechanic and constant backtracking to utilize a couple of persistent points where Alyssa can attack the onslaught of enemies and clear them out. Not only does this pad the game’s playtime with the “new and novel” concept, but it grows old after the fifth or sixth run back or the last shells from your shotgun running out. Given the fact that the final scene unfolds in a complicated series of hallways and offices and runs about as long as the first two combined, anyone wading into the waters of The Struggle Within should realize that their patience will be tested in the worst ways before the four or so hours have passed and the credits have rolled.

The only real beauty of this game is that it tries some things that are new to the genre. The plot, as convoluted as it is, does try to tread new ground. The shooting mechanic is something that was unexpected and, while not perfect, is not something often found in these kinds of games. The Alyssa/Bates mechanic is heavy-handed but also offers the feeling of isolation from the previous titles while still feeling like there are different characters. Even if all of the potential and interesting concepts flop almost right after they leave the gate, the developers make strong efforts to break the mold in a genre where plenty of innovations had already been attempted.

Alyssa.jpg

The ability to locate and click on exits swiftly for survival is still important

Presentation
Even for 1999, The Struggle Within’s soundscape is basic and rough. The music isn’t terrible by any means, but nothing stands out and there is a lot of silence in between some strange sound cues. The one area that this game excels in over the previous one is in the voice direction, though only by a half-step. Save for Roger Jackson (his voice is instantly recognizable as Ghostface from the Scream films), the voice cast isn’t a prolific group, but the performances are clearly still held back through production rather than talent and feel less overdramatized. Most importantly, the scraping of a certain antagonist’s giant butcher blade is the most terrifying sound in the game’s repertoire. It shows up so late, though, that it’s tough to feel a lasting effect from.


Oddly, the game’s graphics are both better and worse than the last game. The polygons  are smoother and character designs are more interesting. Most of the models are so loosely constructed, though, that the game suffers during most of the scenes that play. As with most of the game, after the environment of the first scenario, the other two environments feel monotonous and unimaginative in design and palette.

Conclusion
If you’re wondering, dear friend, if I found the genius hidden in Clock Tower II: The Struggle Within, you may be surprised to hear that I did- so long as you don’t play beyond the first chapter. The ideas that the game sets up feel like they have clearly been veered toward the Resident Evil crowd but tried to hang onto the fans of the original. What results is a jumbled mess of ideas, intentions, and efforts that misses just about every target it aims for. It wasn’t surprising to read that Hifumi Kono, the director of the first two games, had left the series due to a lack of material before this game went into production. His influence is sorely missed.

It hurts me to say that I can’t recommend this entry to what is quite possibly my favorite horror series but I’ve got to. Anything that appears to connect this game to the other two in any way is shrugged off, making references like the Maxwell Curse- which borrows the same surname as Helen Maxwell, a protagonist from the previous game- feel like cheap attempts to appeal to fans of the true second game. The Struggle Within is also a rarity to find in a good physical condition, so unless you’re aiming to collect the entire series, it may be best to skip this one- or better, just go back and play one of the first two games again.

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