Claire is a horror video game designed and published by indie developer Hailstorm Games. It was originally released to PC in July of 2014, with an “extended cut” version of the game released to Playstation 4, Playstation Vita, and XBox One gaming consoles in August of 2016. Although presented in a very retro, near 16-bit graphical style, the game was rated “M” for blood, gore, and violence. Honestly, the blood and gore are not explicitly used and are almost not worth mentioning.

For the purposes of this review, the XBox One version of the Extended Cut was played. Playthrough was in the game’s “Story Mode”, which focuses more on the narrative than on exploration on enemy encounters. As the game also offers up a “Hard Mode” and “Nightmare Mode”, it might be fair to call “Story Mode” the “Easy Mode”.

The game begins lighthearted enough with a very childish dream that quickly turns sour, albeit in a humorous way. Despite the goofy subject matter of the dream, this beginning creates an immediate uncertainty of just what, if anything, is actually happening. Our lead character, the eponymous Claire, awakens from the dream in her darkened bedroom. Her age is unclear, but it would seem that she is a teenager. She seems frightened of something undefined, possibly the black mist that seems to be swirling around her bedroom. She tries to open her bedroom door, but it won’t budge. Just then, an unseen force drags her across the room. Claire frees herself from the pull and makes for the door again, this time finding it willing to open.

Claire searches her house for her family, which includes Mom, Dad, and younger brother, Ethan. The player now gains control of Claire, although the only real actions you can make with the character are picking up items, opening doors, sprinting (for short distances), and a “jump” that doesn’t really serve much use at all. The darkness grows around Claire as she searches the hallways and bedrooms of her home for her family. Light bulbs burn out as she passes and ghostly apparitions manifest in the shadows.

Claire’s family can not be found. The screen then distorts, almost like digital break-up on a video monitor, and you suddenly find yourself in another part of the house. Get used to this because it will happen multiple times throughout the game, further blurring the line between what is Claire’s reality and what is….. well, “something else”.

Claire soon makes it to her parent’s bedroom, only to find their bed bloodied and floating mid-air!! Once again, the unseen force drags you off into the shadows, this time while a voice informs you that “everything will be okay”. You then awaken sitting in a chair in a hospital room. Claire’s monologue informs you that her mother is the patient in the hospital bed, although you don’t actually see the woman, nor does she ever respond to her daughter. Claire excuses herself to grab a cup of coffee from the hospital cafeteria. For whatever reason, Claire now looks and acts older than she did in the opening scene.

You’ll find the game’s first save point in one of the next rooms. These save points come courtesy of floating lanterns located in various rooms. The game presents you with 6 available slots in which to save your game progress. Trust me, you may want to use more than one save slot as backtracking can be extremely tedious, and sometimes more than a little boring.

As you walk the halls of the hospital in search of the elevator that will lead to the cafeteria just a couple of floors below, you will be given the opportunity to search rooms for items such as flashlight batteries (to help you see), sodas and candies that restore health and reduce the character’s panic level, and a few other “key items” used for progressing the story line.

Upon leaving the cafeteria, you once more take the elevator, this time getting off on the wrong floor. Within steps, the screen distorts again and Claire now finds herself in a hellish predicament: strapped to a table under a throbbing mound of flesh and bone. (At least, I think that is what it is. It’s kind of hard to tell with the dated graphics.) A freakish looking creature with no discernible face waits just a few steps away, but flees when a dog mysteriously appears to miraculously save you.

With your new canine companion by your side, you now find that the hospital resembles a twisted reflection of itself. It is almost as if you’ve stepped between dimensions. This “feeling” is expounded upon by Claire’s occasional comments about their being no street lights or stars visible through the hospital’s windows. You’ll soon have a “vision” or “flashback” of a trip to a pet shelter. During this vision, you learn that the dog is (suspiciously) named “Anubis” and has belonged to you for some time…. or, at least, it did at one point in time.

Anubis will occasionally begin to bark upon entering new rooms and hallways, alerting you that there is “something” else in the room with you. Otherwise, I am uncertain if his presence serves any other purpose.

Claire awakens from this vision to find herself back in the hospital, laying in a bed in the Long-term Pediatrics ward. Is this possibly another clue as to what is really happening to Claire? Whatever the answer, you are greeted by some fairly eerie children’s drawings adorning the walls. Very soon, you will encounter your first “monster”: a tall, thin being of pure darkness, with only a white ring around where its face should be, keeping it from being a “living shadow”. Claire and Anubis hide in a storage closet until the creature passes, the screen distorting and controller vibrating wildly as it goes.

Claire does not have any means of fighting back or defending herself, leaving the player with no choice but to try to run past enemies or attempting to hide until they pass. This second option, however, only works if the enemy is not near you when you enter the hiding spot. Otherwise, the enemy “knows” where you are and can still inflict damage while you are hiding. Claire can only take a few hits from enemies before perishing, and may also die from becoming too panicked. I generally found that this usually only happens in the presence of larger creatures or from lingering in areas with enemies for an extended period of time. That is, until later in the game.

You continue your exploration of the hospital, as well as a couple other locations, occasionally finding other lost souls in need of help. These include a young girl at the hospital, an older woman seemingly suffering from the effects of Alzheimer’s or dementia, and even a high school librarian with an extremely high level of dedication to her job. You can choose to help them if you please, with completion of their goals leading to the characters vanishing in bursts of light. This reveals a few hints as to what is truly happening to Claire, but not enough to give away the ultimate plot twists.

Claire features multiple endings, with the ending you receive determined by choices that you make throughout the story. Even then, those endings leave as many questions unanswered as they do answered. While I appreciate letting the viewer/player make their own interpretations as to the story’s conclusion and the meanings buried within, there is really no “real” answer. Claire is simply too muddled for its own good. Even worse, it’s just kinda dull. By the time players reach the storyline’s most disturbing turns, they very well may be too disconnected to care.

While I can excuse the lack of action in the gameplay, I can not excuse the fact that Claire feels like it is punishing you for succeeding. What does that mean??

The game features a sub-menu for your collected item inventory, but does not allow you to drop items, only consume them. This means that you will be stuck with items you won’t need for some time when what you really want is health refills. To make this matter worse, you aren’t told what the item you are picking up is until it is actually being added to your inventory (by having a free slot available). This means that when you intend to use an item in order to free up space for a newly found one, you may not initially know if the item you used up was better or worse than what you are giving up (at least not in the first play through).

This can be a real pain in the ass later on when the game decides to drop your heart and sanity levels for no real reason. The game forces your character to become scared even if there are no enemies anywhere near. Basically, you are dying just because that’s what Claire constitutes as raising the difficulty. There have even been reports of the game randomly changing the difficulty setting on players (on the PC and PS4 versions) and even causing them to lose progress. As any gamer can tell you, that it beyond unacceptable.

Claire might be worth investigating at a reduced priced, but even then you shouldn’t have high expectations. Those looking for scares should look elsewhere as Claire is anything but scary. Those looking for action should also look elsewhere as Claire prioritizes story, arguably at the expense of entertainment. There’s definitely some good story ideas here, but the gameplay just doesn’t back it up.

Score: 6 out of 10

Some pics courtesy of Hailstorm Games.

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