Claire isn’t a game I would normally partake in. The horror genre in general isn’t something that really meshes with me. Not because I dislike horror games, but because I can only play them in short increments. That creepy feeling that inches up my spine and the churning in the pit of my stomach doesn’t sit well with me.
But I had to play Claire. I’ve had a great correspondence with a member of the team over the last few months and I wanted to experience what he had a hand in creating.
Depending on what difficulty you play on, your experience will vary. The Story difficulty level is best for those that want a vastly less stressful game, while the option exists to play on harder difficulties that alter how much damage Claire sustains from Panic, as well as how often you can save the game.
Of course, Claire isn’t the only one that was panicking during my time playing the game.
Gameplay consists of traversing the environment through hallways, while navigating around obstacles and enemies. It’s entirely in 2D, but Hailstorm Games managed to accomplish what I didn’t know was an option in two dimensions; making a 3D-like world. I say 3D-like, because Claire moves side-to-side on the screen, but you change the direction of travel through doorways. So while you’re always looking at the game from the same perspective, you’re able to navigate the building’s floorplan with relative ease.
The only issue I had with navigation was before I understood how objectives are handled. Sometimes you’re given a destination, and it’s marked on your map, while other times you’re told you go somewhere and you’re supposed to figure it out based on the information at hand. It never kept me guessing very long though; all it required was remembering details, which is reminiscent of older horror titles.
The map itself is wonderful, because you can plan out your escape routes rather effectively, making your run-ins with baddies less frantic. Don’t get me wrong, encounters aren’t a cake-walk as a result, but you can at least plot out which way you need to go in advance. It takes some getting used to, but once you figure out that doorways can change which direction you’re heading in, you can quickly get the hang of it.
When you aren’t just skulking through dark hallways, you’re running from monsters. Claire doesn’t have a means to fight back, so your only option is to make a break for it. I’ve always found this approach to horror to be infinitely more frightening, rather than making combat difficult. It reminds me of my nightmares, where I’m in an unfamiliar place and I have no means to defend myself. That’s where the hiding places come in handy!
Claire definitely goes for the retro, sidescroller look, with pixelated graphics and text for dialogue. I’d definitely like to mention that despite the older look, the developers didn’t skimp on technical flourishes. It’s neat to walk down a hallway and see Claire’s shadow react to the lighting, as well as the artifacting occurring during encounters with the shadow monsters. They also threw in a few random objects in random hallways, in what I figure is an attempt to make the player question if they’re being attacked. There were several instances in my time playing where I kicked a ball on the ground or ran into a wheelchair and had a bit of a jump when the controller vibrated in reaction.
The music itself is wonderful, and the sound design is extremely creepy. For instance, even though the enemies in the game are amorphous and hard to see, they still frighten me, and that’s all due to the way their presence is announced when they show up. The music changes, and they’re followed with one of the eeriest sounds I’ve ever heard. Maybe that’s just me, but it creeps the hell out of me.
Again, I love the music. It’s pleasant when it needs to be, and foreboding when the game needs to make you question if you want to keep playing.
Many parallels have been drawn by others from Claire to Lone Survivor, and while there may be design similarities, the plot and gameplay couldn’t be more different. Claire focuses almost entirely on the psychological, where Lone Survivor is more focused on survival horror.
It’s difficult to not see a connection to games like Silent Hill or Amnesia as inspiration for Claire, but it’s only in the gameplay design and setting that I can infer those inspirations. Claire doesn’t put you in the shoes of a soldier, doesn’t equip you to fight your enemies, and only gives you the means to see where you’re going. In that, I think Hailstorm Games found their niche, and it works well for the atmosphere they have created.
The story itself is objective based, with the player beginning the game as a young Claire, wandering through her home in the dark, looking for her parents. Throughout the game, you’ll jump through different stages of her life, while she recalls experiences she has had as she maneuvers throughout a hospital, attempting to find help. Along the way, you’re given the chance to help out others you find throughout the hospital, which gives a little variety to the usual running and hiding. There are even a few, sweet moments to be found when performing these diversion as well.
All I have to say is that if I was in Claire’s shoes, I’d wouldn’t be calm at any point. The hospital the game takes place in is extremely creepy. I’m pretty sure I’d spend the majority of my time hiding in a closet or screaming. Probably a combination of the two, to be perfectly honest.
WILDCARD: HELLO LANTERN
Very few games have made me happy to find a save point; Resident Evil in particular made me not only glad to find a typewriter, but also gave me an incredible appreciation for ink ribbons. Claire managed to make me not want to leave the soft glow of the floating lanterns, or the few hiding places for that matter.
I find value in those safe places mostly because it means I know I can sit and take a breather for a moment before braving the hallways again. While your canine companion does warn you when the creepy smoke shadow monsters are near, he doesn’t have the ability to defend you from them. So your only hope is to find a place to hang out while Claire calms down.
And let’s face it. If you were wandering around in a dilapidated hospital with only a lighter, while formless beings tried to suck out your life force at every turn, you might need a break every now and then to calm your nerves too.
Hell, I need to calm my nerves just thinking about it.
Claire, like most real Claires, isn’t perfect. The map itself can take a little time to understand how it works, and it isn’t always immediately clear what your task is at any given time, but once you get into the flow of the game, you can easily make your way around.
It appears that I’ve been really challenging myself lately, because while Claire isn’t exactly what I’d consider to be my cup of tea, I’m intrigued by it. It’s not a complex game considering that they mechanics are simple, but it’s entertaining and the presentation is fantastic. Considering that you can buy the Claire Extended Cut for $15 (US), it’s a game I can easily recommend for anyone looking for a psychological horror game to haunt their dreams.
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