Ticking along, but not quite tuned up.
Currently in the works at Gamesoft, Clockwork is an indie title that pushes a number of my gamer buttons: steampunk, non-human characters, platforming and time manipulation shenanigans. Whilst not fully released as yet, Stevivor was able to get hands-on with an early build of the game to see what was going on under the hood.
Clockwork centres around a young robot named Atto, a 400-year resident of the mechanical city of Watchtower. When his trusty pocketwatch suddenly wakes up and introduces itself to him for the first time as Milli, Atto finds himself searching deeper into the city to help her achieve her mysterious goals. Leaving the safety of his home in Grindtown, Atto sets off for the city’s generators at Milli’s behest.
The game presents an aesthetic of aging machines, with the background constantly filled with huge turning gears and mechanisms to imply a sense of scale to the city of Watchtower. The abundance of brassy browns and greys could leave the game world feeling bland, but the smart use of varied hues, highlights and contrasting elements of blue and green help to flesh out the world.
On the gameplay side, Clockwork presents as a 2D puzzle platformer with a time-manipulation twist. Atto moves through the city, working around hazards and blockades using careful timing to activate or deactivate hazards and environmental objects such as gates, pressure plates and moving platforms. This is primarily assisted by the time powers gifted to him by Milli, allowing him to create shadow duplicates of himself to complete several tasks simultaneously. It’s a mechanic that’s been done before, but Clockwork is refreshing in that it does not set a hard limit on how many duplicates you can make. Some puzzles in the first 20 levels had me creating upwards of five dupes for the solutions – plus the handful of duds created along the way where I’d missed a jump or otherwise messed up the run. Unlike other games with limited numbers for this mechanic, it’s nice that this doesn’t mean you’ll erase one of your earlier successful shadows if you mess up on a later one and have to go again.
It’s not all perfect – some of the traversal mechanics didn’t quite click for me in my time with this game. Mantling to higher platforms felt a bit hit-and-miss, with one particular puzzle forcing me to create several shadows before I successfully struck the hitbox for the platform’s edge. Additionally, the game’s jump brings your character to a dead stop on landing – a real buzzkill for fluid platforming. It’s troublesome enough for general traversal, but when the game’s first boss includes a game of keep-away as you speed yourself through multiple jumps, this breaks the flow in the worst way. My deaths in this sequence felt less a consequence of my mistakes (as it should), and more an issue with the game engine itself.
Granted, the game IS still a work-in-progress; by its official release, none of these issues may exist. The core concept and gameplay feels solid and minor annoyances like the dead-stop jump will hopefully be resolved in due time, along with a checkpointing system that feels a little less aggressive to failure. If I can loop time and I die, why don’t I start a new loop instead of having to start the whole level over?
For now, I’m happy to say I’ll be checking this game out again on official release to see how it does after a little more – yep, I’m gonna say it – TIME.