Claire is a 2D psychological survival-horror game that pulls a lot of inspiration from Silent Hill, Clock Tower, and a few other horror games of the early 2000s. I had been following the title since mid-2013, and finally gave it a play after a few patches had been delivered for the game post-release (which to the developers credit, they have been very active in responding to problems the game has via patches and being active on their steam community forums and twitter). I had played about an hour of the game last February off Desura, which was very rough at the time. I wasn't quite sure what the final product was going to end up like.
Claire stars the titular character as she wakes up from a nightmare about her childhood. She is in the hospital taking care of her mother, who is sickly and bedridden. However, as she fetches coffee to keep herself awake, the hospital suddenly changes... Shifts into some form of nightmare realm. Quickly finding aid from a dog known as Anubis, they go to try and find an escape to the twisted terror they've found themselves trapped in.
In Claire, you explore labyrinth-like locations full of enemies, traps, puzzles, scares, and atmosphere as you open locked doors and trigger events that advance the story. Honestly its all rather simple. Occasionally you meet a person in the labyrinth you can help with something via a side-quest, or some choice you can make or optional puzzle you can partake in. Your actions go towards what ending you'll get at game's end, of which there are six of.
The gameplay is simple, but is supported by good design, an actually helpful map (surprising as I find maps are usually useless in 2D horror games like this), fantastic atmosphere, and a number of surreal and interesting moments throughout, backed by a good lighting engine and moody sound design.
Monsters come in a few varieties, but none can be killed, simply ran from and hid from. And they can be determined buggers in hunting you down, bashing down doors you try to escape through, and can follow you into any room outside of save rooms. You either have to outrun them, outsmart them (like blocking a door), out-climb them (they can't climb things it seems), or hide in a closet/similar hiding place. Though some monsters don't chase you at all. One common threat is a type of monster that won't chase you, but getting near it will drain your 'sanity'.
Sanity isn't for insane effects or anything, but survival in Claire. Like Clock Tower's panic feature, basically. The more loss of 'calm' and scared you become, the more you'll start taking damage, until you're panicking and taking damage for simply panicking. A big part of the game, especially later in, is managing your health and sanity and playing wisely. This is helped by the fact that like Resident Evil, the stages are large with multiple paths, allowing you to make strategic paths through the facility once you've come more familiar with its layout.
Normally I build-up to my impressions of a review by talking about the elements, but to explain Claire I need to work backwards... I loved it. It's going up there as what I would list as the best 2D horror games out there, along with the likes of Lone Survivor, Clock Tower, Yume Nikki, Last Door, Ib, Witch's House, etc. Claire succeeds in making an unnerving atmosphere that actually managed to spook me on a few occasions, interesting moments in both gameplay, design, and narrative, and wrapping it all together into an enjoyable horror game package.
And its with this severe love I have for the game I must mention that the game still has some problems. The developers are responding to them and still patching the game, but I need to make note of this as the time I played it (version 1.145) that I ran into a number of issues. I played the game kind of stupidly on Nightmare difficulty (the hardest difficulty) on my first playthrough of the game, and as a mention I would not suggest playing on this difficulty unless you really want a challenge and have some patience. But maybe because of this I experienced more problems, as most of what I had problems with was the sanity system, which was very unforgiving and has weird problems like certain cutscene spots draining my sanity so fast I would die during cutscenes and would actively have to heal myself to keep myself alive to read the dialogue in cutscenes. And then some minor things, like how I found the flashlight not really useful most of the time and just defaulted to the lighter, or a few areas later in the game feeling a bit too much like trial-and-error in parts.
I'm sure most of my problems will be addressed with future patches again, and don't think this game is worth passing up on for this.
Claire feels a bit similar to some other kinds of horror games, with the easiest comparison to make being Lone Survivor (they share a bit more in common than just being 2D games with some Silent Hill influence, though let it be known if you liked Lone Survivor, you will most likely enjoy this). However, it also manages to create its own feel and tale of horror, and the developments in both gameplay and story for the most part feel satisfying.
It's a bit slow, there are a few places where navigating and where you're supposed to go can be a bit confusing. However, the levels have a fun exploration element and will usually reward you for taking time off the beaten path, with a variety of side-quest, goodies, hidden scenes and scares, and more.
Speaking of which, the game manages to pack some good scares and "WTF" moments through its course. I found myself a bit more comfortable and less on-edge after the first area, but the game managed to put me on edge and make me feel uneasy through the beginning first hour or two, and had its moments throughout its course. Of note, some of my favorite scares are indeed off the beaten path.
I might be a bit gushy, but that's because Claire surpassed my expectations and has stood better than most of the other recent horror game releases on Steam I have played. It's a quality horror title for lovers of old-school styled horror with a bit of something new, or those who have come to enjoy 2D horror games like Lone Survivor or Clock Tower. It's rough around the edges, but has the heart, good execution, and cleverness to pull off what it strives to be, and excel at it, despite the few flaws it has.
A bit slow, sometimes confusing, and I would not recommend going through it blind on Nightmare difficulty like I did, but a fantastic horror game that brings a lot in from the Silent Hill and Clock Tower class of horror, while also being its own thing that will be worth it for any genre enthusiast. But maybe wait to play through it once some of the bugs are ironed out.