Claire: Extended Cut PS4 Review
Publisher: Hailstorm Games Developer: Hailstorm Games Genre: Psychological Horror
Players: 1 Age Rating: 12+ Other console/handheld formats: Xbox One, PS Vita
If you thought Layers of Fears was a door opening simulator, then Claire: Extended Cut will certainly give it a run for its money. You control the titular Claire as she tries to escape from a mysterious hospital all whilst trying to avoid strange shadowy creatures and monsters with black holes where their faces should be. As with a lot of games of this type, story-wise there is some depth to be had though, unfortunately, it wasn’t the biggest draw for me. The game has you aimlessly wandering around so much that you tend to forget what the plot is about and it is also the type of game that you know will explain things somewhat towards the end. Claire is yet another game with a message about mental health and how it not only affects you, but the people around you. It delves into Claire’s psyche and the events that actually lead to her acting the way she does and it is when the story falls into place at the end where it garnered most of my interest, even if it is still predictable.
Gameplay-wise, for me the biggest problem with the game is that there is very little to do. There are puzzles, though they are few and far between; in fact there are only 8 puzzles to find in the game with some being relevant to progressing the game and others there just to give you a useful item. Other than the moments when you will be solving a puzzle, you’ll mostly be walking around, going through door after door, trying to find your way using the rather vague map (at least it was vague until an update was added recently, though it still doesn’t help much), and picking up items such as lock-picks, drinks, medication and batteries for your torch, the torch which I lost for some unknown reason and then needing to rely on a very dim lighter for the rest of the game; it does instruct you to press the right analogue stick to switch between the torch and lighter, though it didn’t seem to work for me. On occasion you will find other people trapped in the mad world with you and some will give you a task, which mostly consists of you finding and bringing them an item, whilst others only require you to speak to them and maybe choose from multiple choice answers. These people do play a slight part in the story and even though the tasks they give you expand the gameplay, for the most part you will still be wandering aimlessly around.
I completed Claire in 5 hours and 24 minutes on Story (Normal) difficulty, though have seen walkthroughs where the game has been completed anywhere from 3 hours up to 8 and as I have mentioned a lot of that consists of you not doing much at all. You’ll be heading down one corridor, checking your vague map, and then heading down yet another corridor or entering another empty room, and this can go on for quite some time. The map isn’t very useful as it isn’t always clear about what areas are blocked off or what corridors lead to what places, and you can’t scroll through maps of the previous areas to try and plan a route. At one point I was stuck in an area for a good hour or so, trying to work out where to go and when I did finally find my way out, it was only through sheer luck as I have no idea what I did to progress. Mostly I was getting so fed up I started wandering down corridors randomly and revisiting areas to make sure I hadn’t missed anything; after the fifth time visiting the same room, tedium did start to set in. What makes the map even more confusing is that it shows a 3D environment whereas Claire is 2.5D, and some of the doors I kept missing at first because they are partially invisible when walking down a corridor that has doors either side. Needless to say, the map does take some getting used to.
Another issue is that the environments all look pretty much the same, even when it is supposed to be somewhere different. At times there’ll be scenes that will add some variety to the environments, though the same colour palette of dark reds, greys, blacks, greens and browns will be used throughout, and this also contributes to the aimless wandering around as you enter a room or another corridor and wonder whether or not you have been here before; of course a quick check of your map will verify this, though for the most part, it will cause you to feel lost.
Another element to Claire is that Claire’s anxiety levels can change. Claire’s anxiety is utilised much better when you play on Hard or Nightmare mode, with more penalties as her anxiety increases. In Story mode, however, her anxiety levels don’t really have any impact on the gameplay at all and feels rather superfluous. For the most part you’ll find yourself not really taking any notice of Claire’s anxiety when playing Story mode and it only draws your attention when a rapidly-beating heart icon appears on-screen. There are many items that can be found to help calm Claire’s nerves, though in Story mode you’ll find yourself with quite a full inventory as you’ll rarely be using anything that helps to heal. On harder difficulties, there is definitely more of a survival horror sense as you’ll be managing your inventory and keeping a closer eye on Claire’s panic levels and health much more closely.
On her journey Claire is accompanied by her pet dog Ani, who warns you of incoming threats. I didn’t really see any purpose for Ani to be there either as you can plainly see any enemies, making Ani a bit pointless, though the dog is featured in one rather peculiar ending. Claire: Extended Cut does have multiple endings so offers a lot of replayability, and there are quite a few endings for a persistent player to find.
As for the threats in the game, there are two types of enemies to be found, one being the human-esque creature with a gap in its face and the other being a dark shadow with a white face, and it is these that are the most threatening. The human-like creatures don’t seem to bother Claire who can walk past them freely without bother, though it is some of the black shadows that will cause you the most trouble, striking at Claire as she walks past causing her damage and/or chasing her. The biggest shadow enemy in the game pops up from time to time to chase Claire through many corridors, though it is no more of a threat than the smaller shadows. The design of the creatures isn’t really that scary – in fact Claire didn’t scare me at all, and it was the mystery that kept me playing. A bit more variety in the enemies would have been welcome and some bigger threats would have made the game just that bit more intense. Playing one of the harder difficulties will give you more enemies that are much more aggressive, but they are still easy to avoid just by jumping and running past them – Claire cannot attack enemies in the game, instead having to avoid them or hide from them in cupboards, though I found just running past into another corridor was the best method to escape them. I never actually played the original Claire, so I cannot review the new features that are exclusive to the Extended Cut, though there seems to be a new shadow enemy in the game, not that it made much difference to me. Other than the one enemy there doesn’t seem to be any other new additions.
Graphically, Claire is a pixelated game and it all adds to the environments creepy atmosphere; a game about the protagonists past should invoke nostalgic feelings and it does this very well. However, for me the game was a bit too dark and I found it difficult to see where I was going at times, even with the gamma full and the TV screen brightened. As I mentioned earlier I did have a torch, though for some reason I couldn’t use it again after a certain event occurred.
What gets off to a promising start and draws you in with what will seem like an intriguing, if predictable, story quickly becomes something rather tedious, with a huge lull in the middle of the game where not much of interest happens. Things pick up again towards the end of the game, though for the most part Claire does feel like a very empty game, where unexpectedly finding a glinting object fills you with hope that you have found something of importance only to then discover that it is just another healing item, lockpick, or a mysterious white butterfly.
The game fails to build any tension, even when playing the higher difficulties levels and a lot of the empty rooms that litter different areas also feel like filler and when you enter them for the umpteenth time, it does start to grate on you. Claire: Extended Cut plays at a steady pace, with a few random horror incidents here and there that feel more unexceptional than relevant, and although it does have multiple endings to find, the gameplay isn’t varied enough that casual players would want to play through again and again to find them all, and you would need to play through again as it is your actions and decisions that affect the outcome.
The challenge the game offers does slightly increase on higher difficulty settings, with more enemies on-screen that are able to cause you more damage, which is the only real added risk, and the only penalty for the more frequent game overs is trying to get back to where you were. Still, Claire: Extended Cut is a story-driven game and for first time players looking for a more fulfilling experience, I would definitely recommend you ignore Story mode and instead play either Hard or Nightmare mode, both of which are available right from the start.