When I was younger, I rented an unusual looking game called Clock Tower, and I was impressed by how differently it approached the horror genre. While the few other horror games like Resident Evil that were available at that time were arguably stronger games, Clock Tower was undeniably scarier. This was a direct result of the protagonist being more or less completely helpless, a feature that has become more popular lately with games like Amnesia and Outlast, and it’s no coincidence these games are considered some of the scarier modern day titles. At the time, however, this approach was unique, and I tensely guided my character in fleeing from a deformed little humanoid brandishing ludicrously giant scissors in a panic. Would I be able to find a hiding place in time? Or would I trip and be impaled? And, if I did find a hiding place, would I be safe even there?
I clearly am not the only one who remembers that game fondly, as NightCry is a spiritual successor to the series. Successfully crowdfunded through Kickstarter and released in celebration of the 20th anniversary of the original Clock Tower, it’s even directed by Hifumi Kono, who performed similar duties on the first two Clock Tower games. But does the new game live up to its predecessors’ cult legacy? That may depend on where you’re starting from. I had a lot of fun playing NightCry, but I have to admit that the nostalgic feelings it evoked made me much more willing to overlook some of its many flaws, as objectively it’s far from the best of games. Not only is it being released at a time when horror games are far more plentiful, but frustrating controls, mediocre graphics, and a baffling story undermine what should have been a solidly scary adventure.
NightCry takes place mostly on the cruise ship Oceanus. A group of students and their professor are returning to America after their studies in Greece. During a festive party, Monica, one of the students, heads deeper into the ship to find her friend Harry. The first thing she sees is one of the staff cutting up a dress with some scissors and scratching at a weird-looking wound on his neck. She also encounters the owner of the ship, Vigo, who is sterilizing his glass eye by boiling it at a table in the ship’s bar. Being blonde, busty, and starring in a horror story, Monica simply raises her eyebrows slightly at these encounters. But she soon witnesses a gruesome evisceration involving a vending machine, followed by a cloaked figure brandishing giant scissors emerging from the understandably large bloodstain.
Monica’s only defense at this point is to run in terror and hide, which becomes a common theme throughout the game. As the story progresses, you also get the opportunity to play as the professor, who explores a nearby island that contains clues to what is happening aboard the Oceanus, though it’s inhabited by some very creepy people in masks. In the final and longest chapter, you’ll play as Rooney, another of the students, as she attempts to find out what has happened to the professor, the other students, and the handsome composer she met at the party.
The controls are a little wonky at times, but fairly straightforward. You can click on the ground to move your character and double-click if you want them to run. Clicking on a hotspot will allow you to examine or possibly pick up an object or talk to another character. It’s important to click on each spot multiple times, as sometimes you won’t get a critical item or hear an important piece of dialogue unless you do. When being chased, the camera always shifts behind your character, and you can sprint by pressing the middle mouse button. The more you run, however, the more tired you get, and eventually you will collapse in exhaustion and become easy prey. In quieter moments, you can look at your phone by clicking the icon in the upper-right corner and try calling other characters or even using social media. At certain points in the story you’ll have to perform some basic Quick Time Events, such as rapidly clicking on a circle, in order to avoid certain death.
The camera is the first real issue with NightCry. When following you, it isn’t always the best at giving you an angle you can work with, especially in the smaller rooms on the cruise ship. This makes it impossible to see where the killer is sometimes, even when they’re literally two feet away from you. At one point I was trying to click on a bed in order to hide from my pursuer, and my character ended up running to a different spot, which changed the camera angle, which made it impossible to click on the bed. I spent literally a minute and a half trying to compensate for the camera’s interference, the whole of which I spent anxiously wondering if I would be suddenly stabbed.
NightCry has multiple endings, which are achieved by acquiring (or not acquiring) key items along the way, or by examining (or not examining) certain documents. There’s only one “good” ending, which requires doing everything perfectly to find. The game helps you attain this ending by supplying a flowchart in the main menu. You’ll be able to see which path you’re on, whether it’s the “good” one, and what you could have done earlier in the game to get a better ending. The problem is, you’ll only learn what you did wrong after finishing a whole section. Monica has to find someone’s wedding ring in the first scene, for example. You likely won’t find it your first time through, won’t know you missed it until you’ve completed the chapter, and will then have to do the entire level over in order to correct your oversight. Repeating a section you’ve already completed is easier, as you’ll know where the hiding places are and have solved whatever puzzles might be in your way, but it can still be tedious and takes away a bit of the horror. The monster chasing you becomes much less scary when you know exactly when it will appear.
Speaking of appearances, it has to be said that NightCry is a very ugly game. The 3D graphics look like they came from the PlayStation 2 era, and are even on the lower end of that spectrum. There are lots of small rooms and hallways that all look the same, and while the characters’ faces are fairly appealing, there is no apparent attempt at lip synching. I saw multiple instances of objects popping through walls, most notably the murderer’s giant scissors, which seem to phase through every door before the killer is able to open it. This is not a big-budget game, of course, but there are plenty of low-budget titles that find a way to look much better than this. NightCry almost feels unfinished at times.Continued on the next page...