The horror genre. It’s not really my bag, films or games. I have a tendency to switch my emotions off or second-guess the scares. It was with some trepidation that Claire: Extended Cut from Hailstorm Games landed in my inbox. Would this be another in a long line of titles that didn’t quite make the scare-grade, or would this be a definite case of trouser Code Brown?
Claire is a small child, lost and alone in a nightmare created by her own imagination. Or is she? The title starts you off wandering either left or right through what seems to be an institution of some kind. It’s probably supposed to be a creepy house, but it feels more like a psychiatric ward. This may or may not be on purpose. In the scene, there are only scattered shafts of light, with creepy shadows making fleeting appearances on the edges of your vision. Then, when you get to a specific point, everything changes.
You come around after a dream, that old chestnut, in a hospital, at the bedside of your mother. Searching for coffee, and let’s face it, who doesn’t, its time to become explorer once more in this vast building.
Apart from this brief section where you seem to have a definite life goal, I got rather lost and confused with Claire. This may have been the whole point as the game progresses from calm hospital wandering to lying face up on a gurney, staring at some hideously dripping creature. From this point on, the game is choc full of rooms to explore, a torch to keep lit, and a strange dog that appears from nowhere, helps once and doesn’t seem to do much else afterwards.
Let me rewind a little. From the start, its clear that Claire is a handheld console port. The scrolling rooms you’re placed in are two dimensional, with blocky, dark graphics. This enhances the game mechanics slightly, especially when glitchy jumps to scary scenes are about to go off, but other than that, I found the visuals to be dark to the point of being pointless. Having a theme in a horror game is fine, as long as players have that little bit of hope dangled in front of them. Claire doesn’t really dangle that hope. The story, along with the graphics, are a little bit of a confusing mess.
What could be the reason for this? It simply jumps around too much, placing you in another situation of wandering left or right through doors that might be locked or with nothing particular to find. It’s also easy to lose focus and not catch that critical clue for what to do next due to the tedious dialogue . That might come across as brutal, but it’s exactly how I found it.
There was a certain emotional disconnect with the lead character for me. She’s concerned for her mother, but you’re not sure why. She had a puppy that seems to have manifested itself in the darker parts and again, you’re not sure why. She has homework and a caffeine addiction. I can sympathise with that, perhaps. As you wander around the hospital, looking at the map frequently, there’s a definite sense of nothing happening. You can open cupboard doors, boxes, and even toilet stalls as you go around and you may be lucky enough to find batteries for your rather pointless torch, or an energy drink to stop your heart from beating too fast (surely that’s going to do the opposite?). After a while it all begins to look the same. It all begins to feel the same and you end up doing the same things.
There are folk to help in Claire’s personal nightmare, and it would appear that the point of your wandering around is to find specific things in order to decide how to help these folk. This takes the form of picking from a list of actions and it is unclear if choosing one of the other options will define a different outcome. Regardless of this, the obtaining of said items and the puzzles you may have to solve to get them, don’t make it any more satisfying to deny them to the folk out of spite. It seems a little bit of a pointless exercise.
The audio in-game compliments the settings you’ll be exploring, although you can’t help imagine that a little less audio would have made the game work better as a horror spectacle. The toilet doors squeak, the dog growls when something nasty is near and you can hear Claire’s heartbeat quicken. The ambient music is OK, but could do with being turned down a notch in order to make more of the settings and themes in the game.
Overall Claire: Extended Cut is a fair stab at porting a handheld console title from the small to large gaming screen. That being said, it does have its flaws, not least being the bizarre disconnect from the main character to the gamer. It suffers from this and its lack of direction to the point where I’ve seen scarier episodes of Most Haunted. I applaud Hailstorm’s efforts in trying to create a retro-inspired title, however, and there’s a good deal of potential in Claire: Extended Cut, but like the lead character’s homework, it fails to make the grade.