When I was first recommended Hailstorm Games’ indie game Claire, I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect. Sure, I knew it was a side-scrolling horror game, but in terms of plot and gameplay, I was ready to be surprised. So imagine my reaction when it turns out that Claire went in way deep. Dark themes and touchy subjects to deal with and a plot that seemed to have an infinite amount of layers for me to uncover. Truthfully, I had a hard time figuring out how to start this review because there was so much to say about this game, both good and bad, that I wasn’t sure how to put any of it into words. All in all, however, this game was an interesting experience and I can’t say that I didn’t enjoy playing through it in the end.
The first thing we encounter is an out of place cheerful jingle with dialogue between a young Claire and a few of these bears from a childhood cartoon of hers. But this soon fades away and the player is brought to a dark room where they play as Claire and are left to navigate more dark rooms and hallways which get more gruesome and twisted as the game progresses.
At certain points in the game, the player switches between Claire in the present day, which is a young adult version of herself, and her as a toddler or teenager. These flashbacks usually have something to do with whatever it is that Claire is dealing with in the present. For instance, when Claire runs into her beloved dog Anubis, the game flashes back to a nightmarish memory of when toddler-aged Claire first adopted Anubis. Rather than being lengthy cut scenes, the player is still the one controlling Claire through these pieces of memory. This is a useful way of giving backstory to the characters and explaining the situation. A whole lot better than receiving huge blocks of text dedicated to exposition.
Claire herself never happens upon a weapon for her to use against the strange shadowy monsters she meets along the way. Rather, all she’s able to use is a flashlight, which uses up batteries, and a lighter in case said battery-power runs out. The player does have to collect other items like lock picks to unlock certain doors, batteries for the flashlight, beverages and supplements to ease Claire’s panicked mind, and glowing butterflies. It’s never specified what the purpose of the butterflies is, but… ya gotta collect ‘em to… save your soul, I guess?
The player also has an objective to get to in order to move on in the game. Some are pretty straightforward like “get to the East-wing of the hospital” or “get to the elevators.” Others are a little vague where the objective is just “explore the damaged part of the school.”
You can also take on “side quests” where you’ll meet other lost souls in the areas. They’ll ask you to do things or get certain items for them. If you do decide to help these folks out, their souls are freed.
The overall look of the game is pretty good; I was impressed by the detailed pixel art and the sound design. Objects that make sound will move around as the player does. The look and sounds of the game also change depending on Claire’s mental state; Claire has a sanity meter and if the meter gets too low, the music and atmosphere will change to reflect it. A really nice touch on the developers’ part.
Certain features of Claire are very similar to those of the earlier Silent Hill games; the player has to navigate through a series of dark hallways where most doors are locked or completely impassable. You also have to read a map (unless you’re a walking GPS you will get lost without this map), which resembles the maps you’d see in Silent Hill; all the blocked off passages are marked with red scribbles, your objective is circled, and save points as well as the locations of people you may encounter are marked down.
As well, you have to solve puzzles in order to get items or keys. Some of these puzzles are difficult, where you have to remember certain things you saw while walking about. Like at one point you have to move around portraits based on a few plaques you read someplace else in the area.
Claire also has a sanity meter, as mentioned before, which reminded me of the sanity feature in Amnesia. If Claire gets too frightened, her health will steadily decrease and she’ll see her surroundings in a darker and more frightening way.
You eventually realize that all of these decrepit areas are inside Claire’s mind. It becomes apparent that this game is more than just trying to get out of creepy buildings, but rather going through Claire’s fears.
Claire is suffering from a severe case of anxiety and depression due to the unceremonious departure of her father when she was a young girl. She blames herself and her mother for driving her father away, and feels deeply guilty but also very angry. Ultimately, the player is helping Claire sift through her memories to figure out why she’s feeling all of these things and what exactly happened, which kind of makes Claire a psychological horror/mystery game.
The game also deals with other touchy subjects like suicide, where in one scene Claire finds her mother bleeding out in a tub and in another finds a room where a woman had hung herself. I didn’t particularly like the way that the game dealt with these themes of anxiety, depression, and suicide. I felt it went about it a tad inappropriately.
For example, the number of lost souls you find and decide to help along the way affects the ending you get when you finish the game. Yeah, about that ending… see if you save enough souls, Claire will come to terms with her anxiety and depression and may even wake up from a coma. Yup. Nope, that’s not how depression and anxiety work. The overall scorecard the player gets at the end of the game didn’t make much sense either. Claire’s soul gets a score, which seemed a little inappropriate as well. ‘Sorry, you didn’t overcome your inner turmoil well enough, so your soul gets a B instead of an A.’
Anubis and Claire’s dad also get scores which came a little out of nowhere. Anubis didn’t seem to do much save for follow Claire around and growl when there were monsters in the player’s midst. And Claire hardly interacts with her dad.
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Aside from those slight bumps in the road, Claire is a pretty good game. It’s not as scary as you’d expect a horror game to be; no jump scares or anything like that, but the monsters did prove to be an obstacle. The look of the game as well as the sounds and lighting effects were intriguing and really got me immersed in the game all the more. The characters weren’t all that compelling, but they still did their part in contributing to the dark atmosphere of Claire. If I had to give a numerical rating for Claire, it’d be a 7.5/10.