While I’ve made allusions to the horror game dark age throughout this month, Claire offers me the perfect opportunity to bring it up in direct response to its existence. Games like Resident Evil and Silent Hill made an art of the fetch quest by using subtle persuasion to move you ahead. You want to see if safety is behind the next locked door, so you inherently seek the means to unlock said door. A sublime, precise design decision that only the obsessed would ever discuss.
What those games were not (most times) were nothing but locked off hallways and pointless design decisions. About 95 percent of the games from said dark age took the fetch mechanic and stretched it into an entire game of vapidity. Here, in this white-hot hand basket I’m about to drop under the spotlight, is Claire: Extended Cut.
I’ll grant the game its deserved due of having the same type of pixel-graphics and dynamic lighting as Lone Survivor, looking crisp in the process. The environment choices follow along the standard affairs such as a hospital, which any horror diver will tell you is a tough one to keep original, but this game does succeed with overtly dark tones. Nothing is quite so dark as, say, Uncanny Valley with the main aesthetic choice seemingly just Venom’s leftovers mixed with some effective, if not somewhat generic, graffiti.
But the locked door reality is an absolute nightmare within Claire. In the first real square of hallways you have access to, you’re met with dozens of doors that you’ll just rattle against a lock feverishly throughout. You’ll then feel elation the first few times you’re allowed to enter one, only to find more locked doors in a subset hallway. Lock-ception is in full play.
And look, I love a good locked door in games. Likes I said, you inherently want to get out of an environment where everything looks like it’s going to kill you. I cop to that feeling and embrace it when the environment is done oppressively well and the enemy is threatening enough. But here, in a funhouse of jiggling tumblers, the amount of keeping track of each and every door you might enter later becomes staggering. Their map screen helps in the same way as Silent Hill, scribbling out impasses and blocked doors that you’ll never open. Even so, the map screen becomes your default screensaver as you mentally check-off room after room.
The aspect of the enemy is a mixed bag with Claire. There are hints of a roaming danger for a fair chunk of the game before it makes itself known, but even then, I was never really sure of what it was before damage began to tick away. The design is so dark on the main group of…either foggy or pixelated beasts? It’s difficult to say which because even taking a snapshot doesn’t help define them. There is a later-game stalker that will…do the same thing as the ambiguous monsters. The design is there for at least one of the characters though.
It’s worth pounding the nail again just how difficult navigation can seem in Claire. You have the ability to flick in and out of rooms very quick, especially with side-by-side doors, to where you’ll have to check your map to make sure you’re where you want to be. This mixes with a propensity for the main feature of the room to be in the middle, strides away from the initial entrance, to create a sluggish feeling of backtracking. The entire experience of Claire feels like cold molasses because of these design whiffs.
Gameplay is – say it with me – hide-or-die based. That means no combat, fewer chances to interact with the world, and lots of lockers and waiting. Of course, not being able to see your enemies and their calling-card sounds seeming randomly placed make dashing for a hiding place feel like a waste of time more often than not. It’s a shame that the vaguest part of Claire comes up as the one aspect that’s suppose to promise danger and precision instead.
The story also borrows from Silent Hill liberally but with some of the same updates you’d find in other modern interpretations. Claire is obviously losing her grip on reality and you have to attempt to figure out a way to the light on the other side. While not quite as vague and listless as far lazier horror stories have been, there are a bunch of factors that go into the ending you’ll receive. Missing the mark of your intended ending feels a little too easy as a result, but I was also just looking for the nearest exit on most occasions.
Claire: Extended Cut does little to innovate in a still sea of horror tropes. It stands as a museum of modernized design decisions that were brilliant 20 years ago and have been copied to death since. When you come down to it, these doors just aren’t worth prying open because of the lack of awe-inspired artwork inside.
Claire: Extended Cut Score: