Horror is rather difficult to pull off correctly since every player is going to find themselves afraid of something different. Claire: Extended Cut is a rerelease of 2014 2D horror game Claire for consoles, and it features some rather interesting art and story. Is this horror game actually scary, or is Claire yawn inducing?
In what may come as a surprise to few, in Claire, you’ll be playing as Claire. The protagonist camps out in a hospital to take care of her mentally disabled mother while trying to perform well in school. Unfortunately, something goes horribly wrong and she ends up in some sort of hellish version of the hospital, trapped by monsters and completely devoid of people. The only thing that seems to have come with Claire is her pet dog Anubis, and so the two must figure a way out of the strange world. Of course, nearly all of Claire‘s story is symbolic, and figuring out the meaning behind the symbols is half the fun.
More importantly, something about Claire feels genuine. It’s easy to relate to the main character, who’s depressed about her mother’s mental state and some event that happened in her past that she just can’t quite remember. She’s not the “mope in the corner and cry all day” sort of depressed, and watching Claire try to struggle with regular life activities is both fascinating and easily relatable. Her issues and crimes feel human, and as the story continues I found myself rooting for her and getting involved in her drama.
In Claire, you’ll be moving through environments while hiding, running from monsters and solving basic puzzles. For the most part, it works well enough, though I actually found the monsters to be the weakest part of the game. You have no way to defend yourself so the best you can do is either run or fight. At the start of the game, most of the monsters don’t even move, serving more as obstacles to navigate around rather than run from. That said, it doesn’t quite work. Monsters attack slower than you run, so you can just run through groups of monsters without any consequences. Once they start chasing you… things don’t actually change much. They still run and attack slower than you, leaving monsters to be more of an annoyance than an actual threat. At most I was surprised once or twice when they would follow me through rooms, their unexpected bursting through a door or teleportation past a barrier being a welcome change to otherwise easy escapes.
At times Claire is accompanied by Anubis. He doesn’t fight or distract monsters, but every time you enter a room with monsters in it Anubis will let out a growl to warn you. On one hand, it’s a bit of a shame seeing the dog reduced to nothing more than the Silent Hill‘s radio letting out static when the monster is near. On the other, it’s an effective way to keep me on edge when monsters could be around any corner. Simply knowing that they’re there and all it’ll take is the screen scrolling just a little further to see them is a great scare. You won’t always have Anubis though, so getting used to not having him around is equally important.
Puzzles run the gamut from brilliant to being so confusing that I basically had to brute force my way through it. For example, a puzzle involving hitting notes on a piano is unexplained and unintuitive. There didn’t appear to be anything in the room to hint what notes you’re supposed to be hitting. It was to the point where I had to refer to a guide for it. The guide gave me the answer, but also admitted that it just guessed and had no clue how you were supposed to reach that answer. On the other hand, a puzzle that required exploring a house to figure out where people died, then placing candles into a dollhouse recreation of the house into those rooms is rather brilliant. Thankfully almost all puzzles in the game are optional for either side quests or other minor rewards, making it easy to skip one that I didn’t understand.
While you wander around you may encounter other people trapped in the hellscape with you. Talking to your fellow survivors reveal little side quests that you can take and complete, with more successes changing the game’s ending. Most of them are just fetch quests, like a sick girl who wants some candy, a librarian looking for some lost books, or a rock star that can’t find a radio. One unique example requires navigating through some dialogue options involving a teacher who may have started a fire to burn down a school. Sadly, of the seven I came across in my playthrough, this was the only one that felt unique and challenging (there was another person I had to talk to, but there were no dialogue options involved. Just finding him and talking to him.)
There were some hitches along the way that I was somewhat disappointed in. My biggest issue with Claire is that the inventory tends to get messed up if you die and reload your game. Items seem to have a 50/50 chance of actually reappearing or not, something that could become annoying especially with healing items. Events don’t reset correctly either. For example, one scene saw me having to escape a flooding elevator. I messed up and died in the elevator, and when I went back to the elevator to try again Claire suddenly flopped onto the ground in front of the elevator coughing and thanking God that she escaped. My best guess is that the game didn’t reset the flooding elevator event, so when it saw me outside the elevator it assumed I escaped and triggered the escape cutscene. I guess that’s one way to solve a puzzle, but I did feel cheated out of solving the real thing.
The art style is what originally attracted me to Claire, albeit because I originally thought it was a spin-off or follow-up to Lone Survivor. The two games look very similar, thanks to the big sprites and body horror monsters hanging out in a Silent Hill styled “rusty abandoned buildings” environments. The monsters in Claire do look a little more unique, seeming to be creatures made out of shadows with strange splotches of light on them. The Glower, a huge vaguely-human monster with long limbs and the ability to teleport, is easily the sort of thing that could make nightmare fuel. The soundtrack is minimal, cutting in only when it’s needed and being rather quiet even then. It fits the game well, even if it’s not a memorable thing. Between these two things, Claire is wonderfully effective at being unsettling at times and downright creepy when it wants to be, and it’s easily one of the greatest strengths of the game.
At the end of the day Claire: Extended Cut managed actually make me set down the controller and shut the game off because I didn’t want to play it at night. It’s wonky at times, the puzzles could use a bit of work, and I wish the monsters amounted to more, but I found this all easy enough to forgive between the fantastic atmosphere and story telling. If you’re searching for something a little different for your horror fix, Claire deserves a look.
If you're willing to look past some flaws, Claire mixes wonderful atmosphere with great writing to create a 2D indie horror game that I found scarier than many major efforts.
- Creepy Atmosphere
- Creative Puzzles
- Well Told, Entertaining Story
- Easily Avoidable Monsters
- Fetch Quests