As we close in on October 31, AiPT! will be reviewing and recommending various pieces of underappreciated scary media-books, comics, movies, and television-to help keep you terrified and entertained all the way up to Halloween.
Survival horror video games have been incredibly popular since Resident Evil redefined the genre in 1996. Placing an emphasis on character, story, and atmosphere while keeping the players in an constant state of under preparedness, these games were less concerned with providing players a power fantasy and more about staying alive. In the two plus decades since Konami’s seminal release, the genre has undergone many changes. Released for the PlayStation 4 in 2016, Claire: Extended Cut from Hailstorm Games captures the tone of the genre, but falls short in every other way.
One of the most important aspects of a survival horror game is its story. While it does not necessarily have to be groundbreaking, it definitely needs to engage the gamer. Claire does this right from the beginning and never lets go. Claire is a young woman who is trapped in a hospital. The power is out and strange sounds fill the night. In the course of trying to survive the night, Claire also tries to find out what happened.
The story sounds straightforward because it is and that is the beauty in Claire. The best tales are the ones that are simple at their core but keep adding layers. The game may seem like it has little to offer, but in the roughly five hours its takes to complete, Claire deals with weighty subjects like depression, abuse, acceptance, family, and friendship. This is more than just a video game about scary monsters in a spooky hospital.
The main reason that game’s narrative is able to move players is the main character. Claire is relatable and will immediately have the player concerned for her. Switching between the present and flashbacks provides a deep insight into the protagonist that many games do not give. Claire is not a former mobster trying to change her ways or an unstoppable god killer. She is a person who cares for her family, can feel deep remorse, and even worries about finishing her homework. Claire is no different from the person holding the controller and that makes her more compelling.Claire also has the perfect atmosphere. The setting is appropriately dark while children’s laughter echoes through dark hallways. Sudden crashes and loud screams will penetrate through television speakers. Along with these tried and true tricks of the trade, the game has strong beginning and an incredibly powerful ending that sticks around. The game’s constant switching between past and present also keeps the player on edge.
It is unfortunate that the gameplay is unable to keep up with its strong story and characters. While the mystery surrounding Claire is engaging, the game itself is incredibly repetitive. The entire time consists of walking down dimly lit halls and opening doors. There are attempts to change things up by replacing halls with alleys or storage closets, but they basically look the same. At times, it is almost as if the true challenge is whether interest in the story outweighs the monotonous levels.In a game that does not allow you to attack and relies on running and jumping, controls are incredibly important. In Claire, the controls are frustratingly slow to respond. At first, I thought it may be the game was designed to add the sense of being unprepared. I then noticed that this was also the case with dialogue choices. (These decisions also affect which one of six different endings you get.)
Claire: Extended Cut is a well told horror story with a protagonist that is easy to get behind. The plot is engaging and the endings provoke conversation. Unfortunately, poor gameplay and repetitive level design ruin what could have been a truly special game.