By Ashley Ring / July 9th, 2016
|Release Date||July 7, 2014|
Claire is a 2D side scrolling horror adventure game that may remind you a lot of Lone Survivor at first glance, which is what initially drew me to the game. While it may not be as complex from a gameplay standpoint, it still manages to be quite an intriguing horror game with some absolutely fantastic atmosphere and sound design.
Quite possibly the thing that Claire does best is its atmosphere. The sound and art design really come together to create something that managed to make me jump a few times, and in most situations, I generally consider myself numb to the horror genre. Visually, Claire has some impressive 2D pixel art that, as mentioned earlier, may remind you of Lone Survivor. The environments are very dark and occasionally contain some intense imagery, like walls that look like living flesh, accompanied by unsettling noises. Even though the atmosphere is fantastic, and exploration is my favorite aspect of horror games, sometimes exploring the environments felt a little tedious. The environments are unnecessarily large and labyrinth like and, despite having a map, it’s not always helpful.
A lot of rooms and hallways you’ll explore feel same-y and because of this, you have to constantly bring up your map. Which brings up another issue; since Claire is a 2D side scroller, when looking at the map screen, it’s presented in an overhead view. This quickly leads to some confusion as to what way left or right might be on a part of a map that says you’re going up or down, and its not exactly always consistent what direction left or right will take you when going up or down on the map screen. I didn’t particularly find it as annoying as some may find it to be, but it becomes a problem when you’re running from an enemy, and you either end up going in circles, or just have no idea where you’re running to at all. This could have been avoided if the map screen paused the game but it doesn’t, so you have to run away and either hope there is a hiding spot, or you lose the monster that is chasing you. It’s fairly easy to lose the enemy that is chasing you, though they will break down doors if they are able to see you go into another room.
The game is comprised of 3 major areas, and each one has its own distinct and eerie ambient music, fitting of the hellish environments you’re exploring. As things get more and more tense for both the player and Claire’s psyche, the music becomes more and more foreboding with sounds of Claire’s heart beating faster and faster as her physical and mental health decline. It’s a stunning game to look at, and listen to. Claire really nailed it in the atmosphere department, which for me personally, is the most important aspect of a horror game.
Throughout the game, your only sources of light are a lighter which has unlimited fuel, but doesn’t illuminate much of anything, and a flashlight that runs on limited batteries (and the batteries die quite fast!). You’ll find plenty of batteries for the flashlight to last you for most of the game, though. When using the flashlight the game lets you move the flashlight’s beam to look around in any direction, letting you see the gorgeously eerie environments in better detail. One touch that I liked a lot was that as the flashlight’s battery starts to run dry, the beam of light becomes weaker, and illuminates less and less. As long as you have a battery in your inventory, the battery gets automatically changed. For most of the game though, the lighter is substantial enough to get help you see what you’re doing. By the end of the game I felt the flashlight was a better option, because I had stockpiled so many batteries, since I barely used it for the first half of the game.
The enemies in Claire are scary looking, and the high pitched noise they emit when they notice you makes encounters with them even more unsettling. You have nothing to defend yourself with at all, so running away or hiding in one of the few hiding spots is your only option, but as mentioned before, enemies will break down doors if they see you. However, generally all you really have to do is run into a room, and then another room, and they’ll lose you almost instantly. Even when running away from them in a hallway, you can easily hold the sprint button and jump right over most of the enemies, so it makes encountering them kind of more trivial than anything else for most of the game. Later in the game, you’ll encounter taller and much faster enemies that pose a greater threat (especially towards the end!), so this exploit isn’t always an option.
While exploring, you’ll come across 9 different wandering spirits that you can either choose to help them find what they’re looking for, and let them rest, or just ignore them and go on with your journey. It generally just involves finding a few items for them, and they’re usually not too far off from where you meet them. Helping these spirits is part of what determines what ending to the game you get (this game has quite a few!). In addition to that, there are also butterflies that are hidden throughout the game to collect, which as far as I know are only for achievements. I’ve heard some people talk about the butterflies also contributing to what ending you get, but I don’t think that is the case.
In Claire, you don’t just have to worry about Claire’s physical health, you have to keep track of her mental health as well. In the inventory screen there is a Heart and a Brain icon, each displaying the current health of Claire. Managing her physical health is straightforward enough, take damage, her health goes down. Mental health is a bit different. Sometimes, she’ll get freaked out by the atmosphere, and there are also enemies that won’t actually attack you, but just being around them will make Claire’s mental health go down. It’s not particularly difficult to get Claire’s mental health back to being stable. Simply just go into a room with no enemies in it, turn the flashlight on and give her a minute or so and it will return to a calm state. Alternatively, there are also healing items that help her mental health, as well as ones that make her mental health go down. It’s a neat system and I liked that the more her physical health goes down, the louder Claire’s heartbeat in game gets. In addition to that, the worse her mental health gets, the grainier the screen gets, accompanied by some rather unsettling ambient noise.
Probably the weakest aspect of Claire is its puzzles. A lot of them felt like trial and error, and just didn’t flow as well as I wish they did. Early on in the game, I found one puzzle that was just a bunch of pictures on a wall, and you could examine them, and it would tell you the person in the picture, and whether they were deceased or not. The game gives you a hint (and this is the only one I ever found a hint for) a bit later on from when you initially find the puzzle but using my knowledge I gained from playing so many other survival horror games, I was able to figure it out in less than 2 minutes. The rest of the puzzles are either trial and error, or common sense, and I wasn’t able to find any clues for them (they might be there, but I sure couldn’t find them). Thankfully, only a few of the puzzles are actually required to be solved to move forward. There is one puzzle towards the end of the game that has a nice significance to the story, but the hint for the puzzle is something fairly obscure in the background at the beginning of the game, which I don’t think most people would notice. After completing the story and realizing the significance, I thought it was a nice touch, but should have been emphasized a bit more, especially close to where the puzzle was located.
Story wise, Claire is not as straightforward as the rest of the game. It’s fairly subtle, and gave me a lot to think about once the game was over. It deals with fairly intense subject matter ranging from depression to abuse to suicidal thoughts and much more. Its handling of all these topics is done fairly well, and it uses a lot of its atmosphere to help convey the topics. There aren’t a lot of cutscenes in Claire, but there are a few key ones during the game that help you put together what may or may not be going on. Much like Silent Hill, a lot of the story is left to the player’s interpretation, and I love that personally. If you’re looking for a coherent, easy to understand story, you likely won’t find it here. Some things may be obvious, but some things definitely require some thought.
Overall Claire is a flawed but ultimately enjoyable horror game. It lasted me about 4 hours for the first playthrough, which I felt was fair for its asking price of $9.99. It’s far from perfect, and the flaws it has are glaring, but the story, atmosphere, and music more than make up for it! I would say give it a shot if you’re a fan of Silent Hill, Lone Survivor or just horror in general. It’s an intriguing, atmospheric experience that I am glad I got to play!
Game was purchased by reviewer.
ClaireIndie gameSurvival Horror