’Tis the season for ‘First Thoughts’ articles. That’s right, PC PowerPlay fans, it’s that time of year again, when publishers and indie developers alike launch their games in the hopes of being included as part of your holiday season gaming budget. Mafia III was the first big release this month, with Battlefield 1 officially out in the wild today.
But it’s not all big AAA releases. Local Aussie developer Gamesoft recently released platform-puzzler Clockwork, and I took it for a spin while I was overseas. As a 2D platformer, you can play with keyboard, but I found it a whole lot easier to play with a controller. There aren’t too many buttons to remember which, coupled with the player-friendly learning curve, means that Clockwork isn’t fighting against you from the outset.
If anything, the initial setup is a few levels too long. The game actually tells you when you’ve shifted from one stage to the next, but those earlier levels are dedicated to the simplest of running and jumping feats. There’s a bit of storytelling thrown in the mix to keep things a bit more interesting than that, but it didn’t particularly grab me.
It’s not so much that there’s anything wrong with the story as much as my ears fixated on the same looping line of mumbo-jumbo dialect that was used to indicate that an NPC was talking. I would have been fine with just the text subtitles, and while inventing an entirely new foreign dialect is neither practical nor necessary, I did find the looping audio distracting.
That’s me being nit-picky, though, because it didn’t take long for Clockwork to unveil its unique puzzle mechanic, which is really clever. What sets Clockwork apart is puzzles that are designed around the logic of time manipulation, which, in practical gameplay terms, amounts to cloning yourself at a fixed point (called portal platforms) then warping back. For instance, you might need to pull a lever, or stand on a switch to activate an elevator or open a door/hatch. After you’ve performed this task, you run to a fixed point (called a transporter) to respawn back at the original portal. Later on, you don’t have to rely on transporters to warp back to the nearby portal platform.
The catch is that a ghost of your avatar appears and does exactly what you did. Initially, the puzzles are easy, but soon enough you’re juggling multiple ghosts doing multiple things to get past an obstacle, and timing becomes paramount to success. In this respect, it becomes less about rushing to the nearest switch or lever and more about taking the respawn into account so you have enough time to get to the next part of the puzzle to let your future avatar progress. It’s a bit tricky conceptually, but it makes a lot of sense in the game. There’s always the restart button if you mess things up, which takes you back to the nearest portal point, and then there’s a boss to fight at the end of each section of the world.
I did experience some bugs, one involved a stuck camera that made puzzling more trial and error than satisfying, but Gamesoft has already released some patches since launch, one of which dropped the day after launch. The only major problem I have is it doesn’t appear to save my games to Steam Cloud, which means I haven’t been able to continue from my laptop save on my main desktop PC. It’s a minor frustration for what’s otherwise an engaging puzzle-platformer with gorgeous steampunk visuals that promises to have you picking your brain and stretching your heart.