You are but one cog in a machine. A robot boy among robot adults. Day in, day out, year after year, you repeat the same tasks. Looking for your purpose and wondering what happened to the family you used to have. Your only companion, a watch which dangles from a chain around your waist. And you would be doomed to this life, had the watch not spoken to you, and thrust you into an adventure which takes you from the very bottom to the top of this mechanical world.
Clockwork is a puzzle platformer from Gamesoft. In it players control Atto, the small child-robot, as he explores the world of Watchtower. With him is Milli, an apparition AI which resides in the watch Atto carries, and who is focused on tracking down her wayward creator.
Atto has studied at the school of Prince of Persia, and has all the classic platformer traversal abilities of the genre. He can run, jump, climb ledges and clamber on ladders. There are also a multitude of switches to flick, pressure plates to stand on, and doors to unlock. He does have one trick up his sleeve, though, thanks to Milli.
She can allow Atto to loop back through time, creating copies of himself which reenact his preceding movements. These are initially tied to strange lantern-like objects, but the player is quickly given the ability to create time portals at whim.
Of course, this ability is quite handy, as the world of Watchtower is a perplexing collection of floors, doors, holes, traps and trolleys. Players bend their minds as they attempt to juggle the multitudes of Atto needed to simultaneously flip switches, pull chains and lift boxes.
Along the way Atto and Milli will discover that Watchtower is not as it seems. The manufactured world has a dark side, inhabited by banished geniuses, shambling abominations and terrifying mechanical monsters. Even the utopian district of Crystal Heights has a violent streak, as Sentrybots mercilessly hunt any trespassers.
Through their journey Atto and Milli grow from a partnership of convenience to a true friendship. Their ordeals reveal their imperfections, and their strengths, showing that even in a place where all living things have been replaced by machines human emotions still have a value.
Graphically Clockwork looks hand drawn, with complex character and level artwork. While Watchtower is completely mechanical, and inhabited by robots, the whole game has an appealing organic feel to it. Each level has an amazing sense of scale as well, with massive objects like cogs or pipes in the distance which dwarf all those living in Watchtower.
Sound too is well done. Environmental effects, like footfalls while running or doors opening, have a slight echo to them. This really enhances the impression that Watchtower is artificial and metallic. Even character speech is interesting to listen too, with each individual speaking in an odd robotic garble.
Level design is handled well, for the most part. The first two sections of the game, Grindtown and Poisonville, are extremely tightly designed. Puzzles build in intensity and complexity, providing a nice gradient of challenges, while not undermining the narrative. Crystal Heights is equally as interesting, though the level execution is a little sloppier here. Especially when compared against the first two areas.
The game controls well. Atto is quite responsive, running swiftly across platforms and deftly leaping over gaps. He feels like he has a little weight to him, which is nice, and I think the developers have found the right middle ground between the agility required for gameplay and a clunky robot central character.
Clockwork probably isn’t going to be remembered for having a groundbreaking story. Most of the main plot reveals can be guessed quite early on, if you are inclined to think about them at all. But the generic plot line only serves as the basis for delivering the interesting relationship between Atto and Milli, and the few other characters which they encounter. This is where the main heart of the game resides.
Bugs will rear their heads now and again. There are occasions where the engine can’t resolve Atto interacting with his time shadows completely, resulting in awkward moments of floating or sliding. Most of the enemy AI is well programmed, if simplistic. Though the Sentrybots seem far too dumb to be any sort of real threat.
Inter-character dialogue, especially between Atto and Milli, happens during gameplay. These exchanges are interesting to read, and contain important plot points and character exposition. However, quite often they seem to pop up right in the middle of attempting to resolve a puzzle.
Which can be quite frustrating, as you are forced to abandon the careful planning of time shadows you are performing to read the text, or hazard missing that portion of the story. Luckily players will be restarting, or dying, enough times in a level to catch most if not all of the dialogue when it plays on the next attempt.
The only real disappointment that I encountered was that the game ends quite suddenly, and on a massive cliffhanger. There is obviously more intended for Clockwork, the world of Watchtower, and it’s inhabitants. But I was saddened that no real resolution was offered to any aspect of the story. The ending is almost bleak, quite jarring after spending 60-odd levels with the characters and growing to sympathise with them.
SUMMARY: All that said, Clockwork is a very well crafted game which approaches its story, characters and gameplay with a thoughtfulness and subtlety that many other games lack. It’s puzzles can be challenging, and require a certain amount of mental elasticity. But those who like to feel rewarded for successfully navigating tricky problems will enjoy the challenge Clockwork presents.
Clockwork was developed by Gamesoft is available now on Steam.
Reviewed On: PC
Review System: nVidiaN9600C, G1 Sniper M7 S1151, 16GB RAM
Playtime: 8 hours