Clockwork on PC
Clockwork tells the story of a mechanical boy named Atto, who lonesomely wanders the steampunk city of Watchtower with his trusted pocket watch always closely by his side, aiming to repair the city’s unappreciative inhabitants. One day, however, a mysterious ghastly figure referred to as Milli sprouts from Atto’s watch, setting this duo on a path to restore Watchtower to its former, shiny glory.
It’s the pleasantly emotional story that’ll sell you on Clockwork, long after its beautiful hand-drawn steampunk art style has drawn you in. The back-and-forth dynamic between the curious Atto and the manifestation of time itself in the form of Milli, makes for deeply engaging exchanges, with Atto sharing his otherwise dull life with the reassuring Milli.
Both characters grow throughout the entirety of Clockwork as both parties seem to influence one another in a natural way. Atto learns about the vastness and relativity of time, whereas Milli begins to comprehend emotion on a deeper level. Their personalities fuse rather than clash, which ultimately left me caring about these creatively designed characters.
This partnership between Atto and Milli is beautifully complemented by the downright gorgeous visual finesse briefly touched upon earlier. Levels have a distinct feeling of detail to them with machines puffing in the background, and the strong contrast between more industrial zones and luxurious ones within Watchtower tell a story of their own. There’s never crippling confusion about what’s on the foreground and what can’t be interacted with. Environments feel personified and allow some wonderful vistas to tell their own stories, rather than merely turning them into a canvas upon which Clockwork unfolds; it’s an element that most certainly is worthy of praise.
For a project that so wonderfully and naturally captivates emotion, sadly the voice acting in Clockwork is a complete turn-off. The game invents its own language that merely exists out of unintelligible gibberish, trading potential vocal flare for a truthfully annoying string of monotonous babble. Don’t get me wrong, fictional languages can add a whole other layer to any form of media, but if every character sounds like a drunk computer, enjoyment and lightheartedness can quickly make place for frustrating exasperation. Even for mechanical beings, the loud and bland voices feel like a kick to the shins that could have done with a bit more development. I ended up turning off the voices altogether, which is something I have rarely found myself doing in video games.
In terms of gameplay, Clockwork is both hit and miss. Moving across the beautiful city of Watchtower feels responsive enough with a sense of weight to Atto’s movement, yet it’s the time-bending puzzle mechanics that will have you thinking in a way that vastly differs from what platformers usually expect from the player.
By activating certain portals, you can create up to five duplicates of Atto that come into being after you’re teleported back to the portals. For example, there’s a switch you have to flick in order to open a gate, but you find yourself unable to progress towards that gate because of the path you’ve taken to reach the switch in the first place. There will likely be a teleporter near you that sends you back to the portal near the beginning of that puzzle, allowing you to move to the gate whilst your time remnant plays out the actions you’ve performed before teleporting back.
It all sounds a bit confusing on paper, but “playing co-op with yourself” may be an effective way to describe it. Its gameplay is akin to that of The Swapper, which is likely why I expected a bit more from Clockwork’s platforming mechanics. What’s established here is most definitely functional, but small things like exploring each puzzle by soaring around as Milli with the press of a button felt much slower than walking around a level with Atto, despite Milli’s ability to phase through any surface in order to scout ahead.
What this means is that if you’re spending some time exploring as Atto, you’ll have to wait for your duplicate to run on a certain treadmill or flick a certain switch. I found this to be quite damaging to the game’s pace, forcing you to switch between Milli’s scouting ability and Atto to properly solve the puzzle at hand. When there’s up to six versions of Atto running and jumping about on the screen, it can be hard to keep track of what step comes next. Do I jump across this gap to flip the switch, or did I already do that last time and is it time for me to jump down and proceed with the puzzle?
Most of Clockwork’s platforming and puzzling relies on your own ability to memorize and pace your movements, but this feature just wasn’t that enjoyable. A few times too often I found myself wishing for a method to toggle between time periods, controlling one version of Alto to perform a different task than I did before teleporting back. Its gameplay directions feel punishing for questionable reasons, although I could see how some hardcore fans would take great joy out of its mechanics.
In the end, however, it’s definitely the alluring dynamic between Atto and Milli that’ll sell you on Clockwork. This journey takes you across the beautiful steampunk city of Watchtower, which is a joy to behold. Sadly, the annoying gibberish voice acting does damage the emotional experience to some degree, but you’ll be far too busy scratching your head solving one of Clockwork’s enjoyable puzzles with the use of its largely functional time-bending puzzle mechanics.
Score: 3/5 – Fair