Clock of Atonement is a clever game idea marred by subject matter and its handling.
The basic idea of the game is that you play as a guy who fell in love with a woman and then murdered her when she rejects you. Although the ultimate takeaway is that he’s a horrible person, I found it a very manpainy game.
I’m not sure to what degree we’re expected to sympathize with him, but the flow of the game revolves around revealing he’s awful, and for that to make any sense it seems like this kind of thing is not meant to be immediately irredeemably horrible, despite the fact he doesn’t seem to display an ounce of actual remorse right from the start, since his primary issue is that how horrible it is he’ll be punished for the murder. Certainly the protagonist seems to go on a journey of discovering he’s awful – one of the early ends is her successfully killing him, which he rejects out of hand and rambles about how oh, so she hates him, how can he fix that?
We learn that she’s just some woman he’s been stalking and has just broken in to her apartment, and every mistake you make shows him murdering her after saying barely a word or two – the first mistake leads to him assaulting/raping her then killing her when she screams to stop. Getting the good ending where she survives long enough for the police to rescue her involves her suddenly acting as armchair psychologist as past-him rants that he doesn’t know why everyone runs away from him and she offers some bizarre thing about how really he’s running away from himself? It’s possible to dismiss a lot of it as her saying whatever it took to stay alive, but that bit doesn’t seem to serve any purpose but put the focus back on his feelings. Then the ending isn’t accepted because he thinks it’s not really atonement/the judgement clock won’t let him keep going. And only after watching her murdered over and over again does he accept that he’s really done anything wrong. I guess it can be viewed as him just being so delusional that the player has to help him reach this understanding…by having her killed in lots of gruesome ways so he can learn the lesson.
The “true end” allows you to finally access the knife (something I kept trying to affect from the start because stabbing him to death was the first and most direct solution) and you, rather than the woman, have the chance to stab your past self – but the screen then jumps to the present, so did you even change anything? You may be dead, because the scene is now static, or maybe all that mattered was deciding to murder yourself and the scene has played out as it did originally. It’s not important compared to his journey.
The woman you supposedly spend the game trying to protect is just forced to suffer over and over again, the two endings where she manages to survive in part by her own actions are rejected, and the realization is just about how he’s so terrible and worthless and hates himself, so he should kill himself, not about her. (One way of making this work would have been to show her traumatized by what she went through, so he chose to kill himself before she could be attacked, and also by not stabbing the guy to death in her apartment to just terrify her in a new way when she finds a corpse murdered by an unknown assailant and maybe get convicted of the murder since she won’t be able to explain what happened this time.)
And as a portrayal of violence, this is terrible. I can’t shake the fact that him being an insane murderer is supposed to be a reveal to justify the fact he’s evil and gets killed at the end, as if otherwise the murder of the woman would be more acceptable and he might not need to die. The designer seems to have gone out of his way to make everything about this unreal – it’s the rapist in the alley thing, a strawman no one will have to recognize as involving them. We don’t have a man killing his girlfriend in an actual fight but an insane stranger attacking a woman who he murders even when she claims to reciprocate his feelings and say exactly what he wants to hear. There’s no lesson here – if this was framed at all realistically, the fact that abusers and murderers will say I didn’t mean to and it was just this particular situation… would have been well addressed by the fact he kills her even when you try to change things, but here he’s placed in the role of personality-free roving monster you have to aid the other character in dodging.