Remothered: Tormented Fathers proves an effective homage to Clock Tower with tension to spare, but it’s over before you know it.
This review of Remothered: Tormented Fathers is based on the Xbox One version. It is also available on PS4, PC and Switch.
Of all the pre-Resident Evil survival horror franchises in gaming history, Clock Tower is perhaps the weirdest. The original game, a SNES point-and-click adventure from 1995, was never localized outside of Japan. Its sequels, Clock Tower (Clock Tower 2 in Japan, obviously) and Clock Tower II: The Struggle Within (Clock Tower: Ghost Head in Japan) were released overseas, as was the 2002 PS2 follow-up Clock Tower 3. That was technically the last of them, but two spiritual successors, Haunting Ground in 2005 and the crowdfunded NightCry in 2016, helped to keep the franchise’s essential helpless horror spirit alive. (As well as its iconic and enduring Scissorman villain.)
For all its localization woes, ad-hoc titling practices, and spiritual successors, the Clock Tower series has had a profound effect on horror gaming that persists even today – the relatively recent wave of first-person hide-and-sneak experiences like the Amnesia and Outlast series’ wouldn’t exist without it. But Remothered: Tormented Fathers is the purest re-tread of the classic formula we’ve had since NightCry; a good, old-fashioned, third-person survival horror with a focus on stealth and inventory-based puzzles, various more or less invulnerable “stalkers”, and very few ways for the player-character to fight them off.
That player-character is Rosemary Reed, a 35-year-old woman modeled so obviously on Jodie Foster’s Clarice Starling that it’s almost a legal issue. At the start of the game she visits the classically creepy mansion of one Dr. Felton on the pretense of discussing how to treat his mysterious and incurable illness, but what she’s really interested in is the disappearance of Felton’s adopted daughter, Celeste. This doesn’t sit well with Felton, who ejects her from the premises, but when she returns later that night to do some snooping she finds herself locked inside while being pursued by the mansion’s unhinged inhabitants.
Rosemary’s similarities to Jodie Foster aren’t the game’s only flirtations with classic genre movies. Hitchcock’s Psycho is an obvious one, as is Dario Argento’s ‘70s Giallo classic Suspiria. (The original Clock Tower was also largely inspired by Argento’s Phenomena). But the gameplay in Remothered: Tormented Fathers continues a long tradition of navigating a complex space as stealthily as possible while solving rudimentary inventory-based puzzles. The game’s so-called stalkers are an ever-present threat, and make the simple act of getting from A to B an exercise in tension-building and sometimes terror as you are occasionally forced to flee to the nearest hiding place.
Learning those hiding places, as well as routes through the mansion’s various rooms, is integral to success. Opening up new shortcuts and mentally mapping important locations such as the manual save points or areas containing useful weapon-upgrading acid stores is an on-going process from the game’s beginning to its end, though “weapon” is perhaps a strong word in this context. Rosemary can find defensive items scattered throughout the mansion which work in much the same way as they did in Resident Evil REmake. If Rosemary is grabbed, a potentially fatal blow can be staved off with one of these single-use items, deployed in a frantic QTE, but they’re last resorts. More plentiful are various diversionary items that can be used to distract the stalkers, but I found them unreliable at best and mostly resorted to throwing them directly into the villains’ faces to stun them long enough that I could find a wardrobe to hide in.
Some of this stuff can border on unintentionally comical. The game’s stalkers are extremely sensitive to sound, and in the process of recovering items and completing objectives, Rosemary will often unavoidably make a racket to summon them. You never go too long without running into them, and often extended chases can go on too long, with the chucking of items and the hiding under furniture taking on a slapstick quality. It’s during situations like this that some of the game’s technical and budgetary limitations come through. Animations are rudimentary and the voice acting is often awful, which again takes away from the horror when you hear the same ostensibly creepy or threatening lines repeated ad nauseum. Then again, there’s always a jolt of fright when you run into a stalker unexpectedly, and because Remothered: Tormented Fathers is stingy with its handholding and auto-saving, simply moving through the mansion is never a comfortable experience.
If there’s one major drawback here it’s the game’s length – a few hours, probably less than five, and the whole thing’s over. While some would argue that’s a mercy given the core gameplay loop never alters much, there are enough locational changes and more linear, scripted sequences in the back half that you can easily imagine a fair amount of content could have been added. This is likely a consequence of developers Stormind Entertainment not wanting to use up all their good ideas in the first game of a planned trilogy, but that doesn’t account for a slightly unreasonable price point. What I will say, though, is that a lot of games could stand to learn something from how this one tells a relatively self-contained story while also leaving a clear hook for the sequel.
While Remothered: Tormented Fathers has its fair share of technical hiccups, could stand to be longer, and can sometimes veer into slapstick, it’s hard to criticize it too harshly. This is a game that sets out to be tense and scary and largely succeeds in doing so; it also capably evokes Clock Tower and its other inspirations in a way that is both a treat for genre fans and an assurance that the old dogs still have some tricks yet.
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