Backlog Review: “Claire: Extended Cut” (PS4, Vita, PC, Festival of Dread Special)
Welcome back to The Splintering‘s Festival of Dread event, our month-long celebration of all things evil and eerie!
And hoo-boy, do we have some great evil to discuss today, because we’re going to take a look at Claire: Extended Cut for the PS4 and PS Vita, an atmospheric adventure puzzle game that many might call the most terrifying thing of all… a WaLkInG SiMuLaToR! Bwah-hah!
Is it really just another walking simulator, though? Sort of, but let’s not anticipate. Instead, let’s back up and pick this bitch apart from the beginning (there’s a dog in the game, so we can say bitch all we want and it’s not offensive).
What’s Claire all about? Well, here’s the official story synopsis from the game’s developer, Hellstorm Games:
While visiting her sick mother, Claire takes a wrong turn and stumbles into a dark passage of echoing doors and abandoned rooms. Lost, and attempting to find her way back, Claire encounters an over-protective dog and few denizens who are seemingly uninterested in Claire’s plight. Did they block the doors and windows to keep something out, or is a malevolent force stopping Claire from leaving? Why does the sun seemingly never rise and why are there red candles scattered across the grounds? As panic sets in, time slips and begins to fall away.
Not a bad setup. As Claire, players must navigate a maze of haunted hallways, avoid shadowy demons, and solve a handful of puzzles to escape your predicament. Claire has no ability to attack, so other than jumping, hiding and running away, you have absolutely zero defense against the game’s monstrous denizens. It may come as a bit of a relief that there really aren’t very many of these demons scattered about, and several of them can easily be avoided just by running past them, and you also have a loyal canine companion by your side to help warn you when you enter dangerous rooms.
Therein lies the crux of the “walking simulator” accusations, and if it doesn’t sound like something that you’d be interested in, you already know to pass on Claire. However, if you are still open to learning a bit more about the game, let us continue.
At this point, it’s no secret that Claire isn’t intended to test your reflexes. There is still a fail state, however, as Claire herself can die and receive a “game over.” To escape this grisly fate, you have to successfully find your way around the game’s mazes, and carefully ration out your health and “panic” restoration items.
Along the way, you’ll encounter a number of “lost souls” scattered throughout the nooks and crannies of Claire’s world. Each one tasks you with helping them to escape their own personal predicament, which is essentially a fetch quest to find an item for them. You have to assist them all to get the very best ending, so it’s worth your while to fully explore the environments for their random knick-knacks.
One of the most interesting aspects of Claire is how the main character changes age as you play. This is most obvious when Claire is engaging with a memory from her past, but there are several times when her age changes without that context. It’s not abundantly clear whether these moments are completely sporadic, but I tend to think that they are designed to put the player in a specific mindset, whether child-like, juvenile, or a bit more mature.
The environments and character designs create an atmosphere of both loneliness and panic, which helps to put you in the character’s state of mind. There is a minimalist approach to the overall look of the game, as Claire‘s characters and backgrounds are all pixel graphics and the animations aren’t remarkably expressive. To be fair, the characters aren’t usually asked to do very much. The sounds of the game compliment the visuals well. What music is there won’t stick in your head, but in combination with the eerie sound effects, it all combines for a rich sense of dread.
Even if you’re a super-fan of atmospheric games that are more experience than challenge, Claire has a few rough edges, some of which will hamper your enjoyment of the game. Given that so much of the game involves exploration, the solutions to many of Claire‘s puzzles are hidden throughout the environments. However, there does seem to be a few puzzles that are solved completely by trial and error, though it’s possible that I could have missed something.
As your traverse the many halls of Claire‘s world, you will undoubtedly make use of the in-game map. Unfortunately, given the number of doors in both the foreground and background, the map is sometimes confusing. It doesn’t help that the game is consistently played along a two-dimensional backdrop and the map itself displays the many twists and turns of the interconnected hallways. You get used to it, but it’s a blemish, nonetheless.
Claire succeeds in creating an immersive world that conveys the deeper themes of coping with loss and betrayal. Almost all of the design choices appear to be made to put the player in the place of a young girl who is struggling with overwhelming pressures and the loneliness and fear involved with it. As a game, it’s a fine play for those who are inclined toward emotionally-charged narrative games. However, if you are looking for more of a challenge or a game that will give you a sense of accomplishment for advancing, Claire isn’t going to do much for you.
For me? I enjoyed Claire for the 3-4 hours it took to complete it, though I don’t see myself returning to it in the future. There are some really good ideas in play and all of the aesthetics complement the underlying themes. While I don’t consider the gameplay itself to be terribly engaging, I wouldn’t call Claire a cut-and-dry “walking simulator” either, given the game’s survival horror and puzzle elements. Plus, you can die.
I should mention that Claire is also a horror game that I never felt uncomfortable playing in front of my middle-school aged daughter, who enjoyed sitting and watching me play. While there’s some creepy stuff to see, it’s mostly the darker themes that give the game its “mature” rating.
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