Every day the same thing. Go out, fix what is broken, go home. Just you and your trusty pocket watch. Same old, same old, for four hundred years. Until the day your watch starts talking to you.
Clockwork is a side scrolling puzzle platformer created by an Australian developer, Gamesoft. It follows the adventures of robotic Atto and a ghost-like entity called Milli. Together they traverse the world of Watchtower in order to find Milli’s lost creator.
I recently got to spend some time exploring the first section of Clockwork, called Grindtown. This area is your classic introductory setting, where the player is introduced to a selection of characters as well as the basic gameplay and mechanics.
The fundamentals of any platformer are present. Atto is free to run left or right, jump on the spot or in a running leap, and can manipulate portions of the environment. Levels are made up of sections of platforms, ladders, gaps, elevators and carts.
What Clockwork has that a lot of platformers do not is Milli. This machine spirit can leave Atto’s pocket watch at will, freezing time, to float around the level unimpeded. Though she can’t interact with the level (at least, not in the sections I played), she can be used to see what is ahead and to let the player plan their movements.
Milli also allows Atto to interact with a time manipulation mechanic. Strange machines litter some levels, which power up as Atto passes. From the time they are activated Atto can loop back to them. When he does so, a glowing blue shadow of Atto appears, which enacts the last movements made between passing the machine and when Atto looped. This is used to solve puzzles, such as flipping a series of switches to give Atto access to an elevator.
The visuals have a hand drawn, almost sketch-like, look about them. In particular the backgrounds are impressive. Massive illustrated cogs, boilers and pipes which stretch as far as the eye can see. They do an excellent job of communicating the enormous but unnatural world of Watchtower, and the seeming insignificance of Atto.
I can see a lot of promise in Clockwork. The game feels very reminiscent of titles like Braid and Limbo, relying on some core gameplay ideas and a thoughtfully considered story. Gamesoft obviously have a particular message they want to convey, and it is driving every aspect of Clockwork.
There were some rough edges I encountered. Atto feels a little wooden. Given the complexity and deftness of some of the puzzles, it feels like he should be more nimble. He can take a running jump, but stops dead on landing. This was only a preview build, so hopefully they can oil up his joints and get him running a bit smoother on release.
Also, while the time manipulation puzzles are interesting and challenging, there appears to be no way to reset the time loop. More and more Atto’s appear as you stumble through trying to solve a puzzle. The only way to start again is by restarting the level from the menu. It seems like there should be a way to reset it without having to start all over again. Ideally this will have been addressed in some form when the game comes out.
Even with these factored in, Clockwork has a sufficiently engaging story and interesting enough puzzles to warrant keeping an eye on.
Clockwork is slated for release in Q3 of 2016. You can learn more about the game on Steam.