Thursday, September 22, 2016

Review: Claire Extended Cut

The Vita's run of PC indie ports continues with Claire, a 2014 Steam release from Hailstorm that provides yet another dose of highly-effective 2D survival terror. First thing to note: Claire has been extensively patched since launch to fix some bugs with saving and maps, resolving some panic issues and so on. If the game annoyed you on day one, try it again!

The Extended Cut version is far more than just a straight port with a move to a 2.5D engine in Unity that offers dynamic lighting, but the basic gameplay remains the same. Claire is a nightmare plagued girl, consigned to St. Barbara's hospital to look after her mother. It starts with a younger Claire dreaming (or is she?) about her home turning into a scene from Poltergeist. When the dreams start becoming reality, Claire has to navigate the halls and find a way out with a dark terror lurking in the shadows.

Out there, somewhere, there are people to find, some to rescue, light sources to find to keep the dark at bay and nameless terrors to avoid. This is no gung-ho game where our teenage protagonist suddenly becomes a first class ninja or gun mistress. Instead, running and hiding is usually the only option. To that end, Claire nips in and out of doors, using the map to find a safe cupboard to hide in or to aid exploration.

The Map To Claire's Heart

Actually the map screen is probably open more than in any game I can recall, as she moves between areas through passages, and you desperately try to find the right door. Exploring can get complex and navigating around a locked or barred area becomes pretty frustrating. To help out, items to be picked up sparkle slightly, but there's still plenty of nooks and crannies to dig for them.

Lock picks will help advance your progress, but which door do you use them on? Batteries will help power the torch, once you find it and so on. But there are still lots of questions at every turn, where did all the candles come from? Why are all the clocks stuck at 3:33? Is that a demon or just some flickering rubbish? Why can this healthy looking girl only jog about 5 steps?

There are lots of doors, behind, in front and to the side of many rooms in the hospital, which can confuse, especially as Claire has limiting sprinting capacity, a need for energy and, as with any person in a nightmarish hospital, can easily become panicked. There are a range of different endings to her story, so while the game might only be six to eight hours long, there's plenty to seek out among its dark passages.

The hospital is broken up into wings, and there's also a school where something equally grim is going on, but your main aim is to complete the objectives, as listed in your journal. With such limited visual information, sound plays a huge part in the game and there's all sorts of peculiar effects playing around the stereo space behind a haunting ambient audio track (tune is definitely not the right word).

Claire isn't quite as dramatic as the ambiance makes it out to be, basically a simple explore and puzzle game, but the story is worth sticking with, and this is a perfect handheld game for short doses of heart-fluttering scares.

Score: 7/10
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Price: £13.99, $14.99 (PSN)
Developer: Hailstorm
Progress: Let me out the closet!

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