Developed by Sydney-based company Gamesoft, Clockwork is set in the vast mechanical city of Watchtower. You play as Atto, a young mechanical boy who navigates his way through the steampunk-inspired world, repairing things and generally keeping the various machinations of the city humming along. Things change when his trusty four-hundred-year-old pocket watch comes to life in the form of a very helpful being named Milli. Atto must use Milli to manipulate complex areas by performing an action like pulling large levers or switching off steam-valves so he can safely reach his destination. At the same time, you’ll encounter a few other odd inhabitants of Watchtower, and there’s an intriguing storyline to be found here revolving around the obvious theme of time and decay.
The first thing that came to mind as the first level loaded up was the inspiration from the Oddworld series, a series that I adored as nipper. Those games were not only puzzling but gave a tangible goal or a destination to strive for and I felt the same thing while playing this game. It made me eager to complete each puzzle so I could find out more about all the characters backstories and uncover the many mysteries in this menacing mechanical world.
The first level helps you ease into gameplay
My second thought was just how pretty everything looked. A 2D platformer game isn’t something I’m prominently drawn to, but a good visual aspect will get me, especially when it’s themed in a steampunk-styled, encased-feeling world. Paired with the rusted light and dark shades and glowing bursts of vibrant colours coming from the characters and faint details in the background, the art style is consistently fantastic. With its painstakingly hand-drawn backgrounds and characters, you can tell the designers went to lengths to make the visuals beautiful and inviting so I’ll tip a fedora to them for that. Also, I really enjoyed how the characters moved and interacted, their movements were smooth enough to see a pinch of humanity in them while at the same time having the feel of the stiff and mechanical; the whole world is made up of robotic machinery with not a single sign of organic life in sight, but the characters nonetheless have a bit of heart.
Splashes of vibrant Blue throughout is very easy on the eyes
The puzzles become increasingly more intense, but the first two or three levels let you ease into how the game will be played by letting you coast a little while paying attention to the first chapter of Atto’s story. The main twist to the standard lever-pulling puzzles is in the use of time portals. Once activated, these time portals essentially initiate a pseudo-recording of Atto, such that once you reset back to the portal, whatever actions you had performed previously are repeated. You can make a seemingly infinite amount of copies of Atto, and later puzzles make liberal use of this mechanic where you’ll require multiple recordings of yourself to complete multiple actions in a perfectly-timed sequence (sometimes even down to the millisecond). I really enjoy a good challenge, and a challenge is very much what this game gives you. You really have to think many moves ahead, or you’re very likely to end up a pancake under a crusher. There’s no option to change the difficulty and make the timing a bit more forgiving either, so expect a hefty difficulty as the puzzles progress.
The world needs more of you, after all
Now I can see some people not enjoying how the characters interact verbally, as the voices replicate that sort of a nonsensical Sims-style babble where you don’t understand a lick of what they’re saying (but of course it’s all subtitled). I really liked it though, because you can imagine the voices on your own and it doesn’t seem forced or out of place. Take Fallout 4 for example; The Lone Wanderer is supposed to be a badass as he drills through enemies with massive guns, but when he opens his mouth and sounds like a divorcé who wears socks with sandals which kind of ruins the illusion…you get what I mean. At least this way you can hear the language context however you wish, plus to me it authenticates the mechanical aspect of the characters, and hey, the dialogue boxes are clear and prompt at the bottom of your screen.
Be wary of “The Hour” of course
“The Hour” being a beautiful metaphor, really. Time is never on our side
I can genuinely say that as much as there were times where I became frantic and annoyed at the difficulty of some of the puzzles (even going as far as forcing myself to play through a few), I cannot fault Clockwork. It’s beautiful, it’s well thought out, it’s challenging and there is a creative but easy to follow storyline that keeps you engaged throughout the difficult but entertaining puzzles. This is small-time, Sydney-based developer Gamesoft’s debut game and they have really come out of the cage swinging. With some heavy boss battles and over 60 levels of tough time manipulation, it’s really worth the $14.99USD you’ll shell for it (unless you snatch it up before the 17th of October when it’s a steal at $11.99USD). It makes me proud to see a small development company like Gamesoft create a game like this inside a little warehouse in our own Sydney, Australia, and with Clockwork being their debut game the future looks bright indeed.
Reviewed on PC