Sawbuck Gamer

The Clocktower

Not Getting Any Younger

In The Clocktower, there’s no escaping the ravages of age.

By John Teti • September 9, 2013

Sawbuck Gamer is our daily review of a free or cheap game ($10 or less).

One of the missed opportunities in the Assassin’s Creed II trilogy is the non-aging of Ezio Auditore. Sure, the prolific spine-splicing hero to the downtrodden looks older as the decades-long story progresses. But in a design decision that can only be characterized as a punt, Old Ezio is no worse at scaling tower walls and creeping along thin rafters than his younger self. (In fact, his abilities are enhanced by a series of increasingly ludicrous gizmos, a self-serving motif of immortality through technology.) This absence of decay is the fundamental lie of the power fantasies that dominate mainstream video games, in which characters tend to grow ever stronger.

In truth, self-improvement is a battle of attrition that time always wins, and The Clocktower speaks to that reality (albeit on a far smaller scale than Assassin’s Creed). You’re a little wisp of a fellow who defends a clock tower against waves of strange ghouls who attack every 10 seconds. After every fifth wave, a debilitating curse works deeper into your bones, and you’re weakened. Your world-beating machine gun slowly transforms into a pea shooter, and your vertical leap grows less springy with each passing minute. Created in 48 hours for the Ludum Dare game-making competition—the theme this time was “10 seconds”—The Clocktower has no depth beyond its premise. The goal is simply to survive as long as you can. But the need to improvise as you weaken evokes the plight of, say, an aging baseball pitcher who substitutes craftiness for power. The result is a slight game that pokes at all those supermen who never lose their fastball.

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6 Responses to “Not Getting Any Younger”

  1. caspiancomic says:

    Survived 22 rounds. Not so completely embarrassing.

    Also, following off the whole “Ezio the functionally immortal pensioner” line of thought, this could also be applied to Snake’s chronologically final appearance in MGS4. The idea that Snake is old permeates through the entire game. The story is built thematically around the idea that “war has changed”- the game’s de facto tagline during the early trailers- and that cold war relics like Snake have become outdated and lost their relevance on the international political/espionage scene. Snake is constantly being tailed by his next generation replacement, Raiden, who more than once shows up to save the old codger’s hide. The character is even suffering from advanced aging just to drive the point home, and has been re-christened “Old Snake” in case everything that came before was a little too subtle.

    But in terms of sheer gameplay, Snake shows almost no signs of wear n’ tear, and indeed thanks to advances made in the mechanics of the game over the series he is actually, if anything, more capable than he was in his youth. He gets the occasional back ache, which never happened before, but the man can still dive roll, knock out a soldier twenty years his junior, survive multiple gunshot wounds, etc. I think it would have been interesting to actual incorporate Snake’s advanced aging into the gameplay more fully than the occasional bit of arthritis. Instead of giving us essentially a hip young gunslinger with an old coat of paint, give us a character whose capabilities are indeed severely restricted by his age. Having to navigate a warzone and avoid being brutalized by enemy soldiers would have been much more harrowing if our movement speed was severely reduced, or we no longer had access to our dive roll, or whatever.

    Anyway, I think this post got away from me slightly. The point I’m trying to make is, this sawbuck game was pretty fun.

    • Bakken Hood says:

      I find it amusing that Sam Fisher, who has been “old” ever since his late forties when the first game came out, keeps getting more athletic with each installment.

      To be fair, AC Revelations did have a few segments that (minor spoilers) put you in the slow, frail boots of 80-something Altair, where your tasks include politely asking your allies to shoot the bad guys and sitting in a chair to die of old age.  And Ezio does mature as a character, which is nice to watch.  But yes, it would have been more meaningful to show him slowing down with age, maybe appointing his spry young assassins (hell, I pressed hundreds of buttons to train the bastards) with tasks that demand vigor and athleticism.

    • Passe_Partout says:

      I’d say your point was driven home for me towards the end of MGS4 when the player get an extended view of his ass in that skin-tight sneak suit. He’s certainly wasn’t showing any advanced aging there.

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  2. Andy Tuttle says:

    I’d rather play the horror game Clock Tower for the PS1. Remember that guy with the giant pair of scissors? I used to get these crazy panic attacks whenever I heard him coming, ugh.