The oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear, and the oldest and strongest kind of fear is fear of the unknown.
H.P. Lovecraft wrote that. At the time, I don’t suppose the kind of unknown he had in mind was whatever’s meant to be happening in the world of Claire – Extended Cut. Graphically and structurally incomprehensible, this 2D scrolling horror adventure doesn’t so much induce terror as it does tedious frustration. Sometimes, the unknown is simply annoying.
Claire is a story of family tragedy. The titular girl at the centre of it visits her sick mother in hospital. This starts a narrative exploring her feelings of isolation and the relationship with her absent father, told through the medium of a shit Silent Hill. The hospital itself manifests as a nightmare world of ominously dark passages and rooms, populated with monstrous figures and ghostly apparitions muttering upon concerns of their own.
I suppose the shadowy nature of it all is supposed to reflect Claire’s emotional state, but the combination of terrible, pixelated artwork with utterly dysfunctional lighting pushes any concern for our protagonist to the back of the mind. The only conscious focus becomes navigation through each corridor, leaving to blind hope that there is no obscured monster beyond the next step waiting to attack unseen.
And when Claire is attacked by…whatever, you would be forgiven for not knowing it had even happened. Not a flinch is expressed to indicate any harm that has befallen her. Only a vague noise, and a game over screen to tangentially explain what that noise must have been. Perhaps the strange dog that follows Claire around is supposed to warn her of danger with his sporadic growls, but you never really know. If Claire dies, it was something dangerous, I guess.
An impressively confusing inventory system allows you regain health and a sense of calm if you have the right consumable items to hand. I might save you some time here by explaining what the game chooses not to – that everything requires a double click of the A button to utilise (presumably a hang-over from the PC’s mouse controls). While the inventory displays a measure of Claire’s health, the game’s main HUD is rather more vague, meaning visits to the menu screen are a frequent interruption.
Better to simply hide in a cupboard or run away from any threat, if you can muster a sense of direction. Not only are individual screens difficult to parse, but they are linked in a 3D arrangement that is completely unintuitive. Again, regular menu trips are necessary to check if going left down a 2D corridor actually translates to a westerly direction on the map. It could just as easily be north or south, so navigation under pressure becomes impossible.
Claire’s objectives in all this amount to finding keys for locked doors, or more abstract puzzles involving portraits and chess pieces (Resident Evil bears some responsibility for this). She also faces the task of fetch quests on behalf of those lingering spirits. Her physical progress is rewarded with revelations about her back story, delivered as she explores beyond the hospital and relives memories of school; old apartments; a fairground.
Hailstorm Games have their heart in the right place with Claire. There is a sincere story here that probably deserves more attention than the game in which it hides will allow. Sadly, the experience is so mechanically cumbersome and visually obstructive that any narrative concerns become smothered. I hate to abandon Claire again – she’s had enough of that in her life – but I just couldn’t bring myself to care. In a game trading on horror tropes, my apathy was the scariest thing I encountered.
Claire – Extended Cut was provided to us by Microsoft via a download code for Xbox One.