I love survival horror games, I love 16-bit style visuals, and I love Silent Hill. Those things alone had me excited to play Claire: Extended Cut – a 2D psychological horror title that seemed to embrace a lot of tropes seen across the genre. It’s not afraid to wear its inspirations like a badge of honour, in turn providing an experience that manages to entertain despite feeling a little familiar in most facets of design.
There’s a dark story in Claire: Extended Cut that begins by showing protagonist Claire as a child, suffering a traumatic experience that you’re not too sure is a distant memory or a nightmare. She awakens in a hospital, though as a visitor – Claire’s mother is in a state of comatose and Claire is looking after her. After going to get some coffee, the world suddenly starts to collapse around her with darkness and horrendous sights filling her surroundings. It’s up to you to find out what is going on and how to escape the nightmare.
Claire’s background is expanded upon as you explore each area, with the game featuring plenty of flashback moments that show things that happened to her as she grew up. I kind of expected the game to take a darker turn at times, though it never did anything too shocking. Some of the story’s big reveals could feel a little underwhelming though – whilst I enjoyed the plot and was always intrigued to find out what was actually going on, some of the plot points just didn’t seem to pack much punch with their reveal.
There’s no lack of detail though, with plenty of different notes littered around the environment that offer a bit of a back story into the happenings of the game. Each note was interesting and the similarities the notes shared with the plight Claire was going through enticed me to find them all. One thing I didn’t like about the notes was that I had to open each one manually through the menu. It would’ve been nice to have been able to simply press a button to open each note as I picked them up.
There’s zero combat in Claire: Extended Cut with the focus being on either hiding or escaping from the game’s monstrosities. Enemy design is pretty cool, with a few horrific beasts showing their face (or lack of) during the game. Whilst I really liked the enemy design, they weren’t actually all that intimidating in-game. It was always a little too easy to evade enemies, though it’s something that probably can’t be helped given that the game takes place on a restricted 2D plane. That being said, the problem is rectified on the game’s hardest difficulty that features much more threatening enemies.
Claire: Extended Cut has three difficulties to play through, each one offering something suitable for different kinds of players. ‘Story’ is a sort of casual mode where the gameplay doesn’t offer much of a challenge, ‘Hard’ makes you suffer damage whilst Claire is in a panicked state, whilst ‘Nightmare’ offers no revivals and even nastier enemies. Admittedly (and perhaps shamefully) I had the most fun playing through on the ‘Story’ difficulty, though each to their own.
Whilst you have to keep an eye on your health during Claire: Extended Cut, there’s also a panic meter that (depending on the difficulty you choose to play on) can make you lose health as Claire gets frightened in the game. Whether it’s being pursued by a monster, walking through a dark environment or simply using the wrong item, there are plenty of ways for Claire to get frightened in the game. Thankfully it’s easy enough to heal your panic, but it’s still something extra you’ll need to keep an eye on if you’re going to survive. It fits in well with the horror vibe of the game and adds an extra dimension of suspense – you’ll be panicking yourself about making sure Claire doesn’t get panicked…
There are some intricate puzzles you’ll need to solve throughout the game too, with most of them being real headscratchers. They aren’t all compulsory, though they were all so well designed that I ended up solving every enigma I came across. They’re all well varied too – some will have you putting candles in rooms of a dollhouse, re-arranging chess pieces, or even simply working out each stage of grief. Whilst they were well designed in practice, all of the game’s puzzles fit in well with the overall dark vibe too.
As you work through the game you’ll find an assortment of characters that need Claire’s help in some shape or form. Whether it a committed librarian who wants nothing but to collect overdue books, a metal head who hates his own music, a guilt-filled teacher whose past actions are haunting him, or even a sick a child who just wants some sweets, it’s up to you if you decide to help them or instead ignore them. The choices you make can affect the ending you’ll receive at the end of the game though, so it’s worth baring in mind before deciding if you want to be a good Samaritan and help everyone out or not. Whether you help them or not, each character you meet is unique and their presence only adds to the game’s atmosphere.
It’s not just the NPCs who’ll be keeping you company in Claire: Extended Cut – you’ve got a faithful canine companion that stays by your side, barking if there’s ever a threat up ahead. Its presence is quite comforting with the dog’s appearance actually feeling quite appropriate for a horror game. Fans of Silent Hill will find another similarity with Claire: Extended Cut’s dog, though it’s something you’ll only witness if you finish the game under certain circumstances…
Claire: Extended Cut features multiple endings, though I’ve only encountered two so far – one of which is the ‘Good’ ending (well, according to the trophy I unlocked anyway). The other ending was more unsavoury, though it fits in with the tormenting vibe of the game world.
The game’s pixel art style is very reminiscent of another indie horror title, Lone Survivor. Like Lone Survivor, it’s also heavily inspired by the Silent Hill series, the similarities obvious with each environment packed full of grotesque, horrific detail. Even the locations you visit will feel familiar, with Claire trekking through a Hospital, School and Apartment Block throughout the game.
Of course, these typically harmless environments are much darker and distorted variations. Gruesome sights are always on show, with some of your surroundings having an almost flesh-like appearance. The environment slowly collapses around you at times too, which looks particularly cool across the game’s 2D plane. The game even seems to share similarities with some horror movies too, with things like the floating beds or static-filled TV screens reminding me of horror classics like Poltergeist.
Claire: Extended Cut has plenty of neat lighting effects on offer too that add to the game’s creepy atmosphere. There’ll be rays of light hitting the ground through windows and the subtle glow of the strange candles that seem to be everywhere, the dim lights offering a brief sense of solace throughout the game’s terrifying corridors. That being said, whilst the game uses lighting effectively for the most part, sometimes the environments could be a little TOO dark – despite the use of either a flashlight or lighter, it was often too dark to make out some details of the environment. It actually got to a point where I would depend on a button indicator to interact with the environment as opposed to actually noticing things myself, something which made me feel a little disengaged with the game world.
The sound design of a horror game is pretty important and thankfully Claire: Extended Cut delivers a fantastic soundtrack made up of some dark, ominous tunes as well as plenty of creepy ambient noise. There was even the somewhat surprising addition of some upbeat pieces, though they typically worked well given each situation you find yourself in during the game.
Whilst I enjoyed playing through Claire: Extended Cut, it had a few flaws that prevented it from being a great game. Thankfully, none of those flaws stopped it being a GOOD game and it’s certainly something I can see myself returning to on a dark, eerie night – especially due to the multiple endings I’ve yet to witness…
It’ll appeal to fans of psychological horror games (especially Silent Hill) with its tense gameplay and grotesque surroundings, even if there is nothing here you wouldn’t have seen before.
Developer: Hailstorm Games
Publisher: Hailstorm Games
Release Date: 30/08/2016
Format(s): Playstation 4 (Reviewed), Xbox One, Playstation Vita, PC, Mac