In Darkness, A Steady Light – PC – Claire – 2014


20190402222940_1Claire
PC
Hailstorm Games
Genre: Horror Adventure
2014

Games can pull you in for a number of reasons. The obvious ones involve an ongoing series and brand familiarity. Other can be promotional art and media buzz. Sometimes, it can be just as simple as a name and brief description. I can’t remember where or how exactly, but I do remember hearing about an indie horror game and aside from the title, I had no idea what it was about. That title?

Claire.

Now, something you should know about me is that if you name anything something that appeals to my inner psyche, I’ll probably attempt to partake in it; cocktails, books, and obviously video games all fall under this umbrella. Speaking of Umbrella, Resident Evil is a big reason why the name Claire has cemented as a favorite of mine. I even named my second car “Claire”. It may sound oddly philosophical, but when you use a name in your title, you make a lot of mental connections for your potential audience.

For me, the combination of the title and the genre were enough to garner my attention. Looking into it, it seemed right up my alley and most likely, as with most of the games I buy on Steam, it was on sale. There was only so much to potentially lose so I took the plunge and decided to give it a whirl.

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Things go from familiar to claustrophobic and ominous real quick

Plot
Claire is a young woman who is having a tough time. While dealing with her own nightmares and inner demons, she has been visiting her mother in the hospital for some time. While her mother has been unresponsive, the cold and sterile walls of the building and the warm coffee in the cafeteria feel like they’ve been the only things she’s had to look forward to for a while now. In one of her routine walks through the hospital’s lonesome halls, she finds the world changing around her, growing darker with a heavy dread bearing down.

Before Claire knows what is happening, she is surrounded by a familiar but foreign environment- this is the hospital but shadows are bearing down on her, changing the world around her to one that feels straight out of her own troubling dreams. As the lines between reality and the darkness blur further and further, she must survive long enough to find her mother and find a way to safety, never knowing who to trust- including her own eyes and memories.

Mechanics
Claire plays out in a 2D setting, bringing with it the usual control scheme for the environments. The player controls the protagonist by navigating left and right, pressing the appropriate buttons to enter doorways and to jump over obstacles and onto ledges. Claire also has the ability to sprint for a short amount of time, offering an expedient escape should she need one. Once she runs out of stamina, it takes a moment of catching her breath before she can resume running again.

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This game graces a lot of horror tropes in a beautiful fashion

The game offers two ways for Claire’s survivability to be gauged. Health indicates how physically hurt she is. By standard, this is usually chipped away at by being attacked by certain creatures roaming the landscape. Sanity is the second indicator, the damage to which is incurred by Claire witnessing disturbing images and situations or by standing near certain beings for too long. Plenty of front-end signals alert the player that they are suffering- the screen starts to become fuzzy, the player’s view limited, and a rapid heartbeat grows into an overwhelming metronome of peril. Thankfully, there are plenty of ways to replenish these by finding items like coffee and hard candy or by standing near televisions playing the victorious theme of one of Claire’s childhood cartoons.

Like fellow 2D horror pioneer, Clock Tower, Claire does not rely on combat to survive her encounters with the shadows that are chasing her. There are a multitude of hiding spots for her to duck into when they are around and early on, she comes across a canine companion by the name of Anubis (‘Ani’, for short) who will give off a warning growl if something is amiss in her current room. The more physically dangerous of her pursuers will even break down doors to move from one room to another to attack her, so putting a couple of rooms worth of space between Claire and the shadows is prudent before taking a rest.

A few comforts do also make things a bit more convenient. Aside from the faithful Ani, Claire also has two forms of illumination to keep her and the player alert. By default, she has a lighter which emits a soft glow around her and makes the world navigable. She also, however, finds a flashlight that will light up the path in front of her a bit more but relies on the player exploring to find batteries to keep it powered. The player can flip between these with the push of a button to help conserve the finite resources Claire may need later on. As with many games like this, as well, there is a map to make sure you keep your bearings as best you can.

The Good, The Bad, And…

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Friend or foe, Claire will find some others lost in the darkness, as well

A handful of horror games approach with the concept of giving a lot of accommodations to the player and gradually taking them away- a concept that is really frightening when you think about it. Almost right from the start of her horrific journey, Claire has access to all of the comforts I stated above. Eventually, the game takes some of these elements away. It may not be for the duration of the game but their sudden lack of presence makes for a desperate scramble to try to find them again or sharpen up your attention to what’s going on around you. In these moments, Claire goes from uneasy to anxiety-riddled.

Another thing Claire feels like it does right involves pacing. The maps feels immense, but it always feels like you’re finding something new and pushing the story and side-stories along at a good clip. Given that the game overall only takes a few hours to complete, there are pieces of the story you can certainly miss if you don’t explore thoroughly. That’s kind of the new modus operandi for shorter games like this, though, and even with backtracking, it never feels like too much of a slog to achieve what you need to.

In the interest of fairness, though, there are a few minor issues. There are a few instances where the background and obstacles mesh together a bit too well, resulting in inefficient attempts at escaping enemies. There are a couple other ‘unfair’ feeling factors- one, in particular, being a room that seems to just trap you and kill Claire without a chance to escape and another being the inability to backtrack to certain areas while stuck with a number of sidequest items that may not have been utilized. They aren’t game breaking and even if someone hasn’t saved in a bit, there’s rarely too much lost.

Presentation

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Oh. Oh no, I’m good. Thank you.

Claire is, at the very least, above average on all of its visuals and sound. The pixel art is spot on with fantastic detail in the environments. A couple of small elements stand out as seeming a bit “off” from the rest of the game but really, the game is a dark, gritty, and often claustrophobic scene that perfectly reflects the inspirations it seems to draw from while toying with light and shadow. Of note, the adversaries Claire encounters in her plight are just on the right edge of horrifying, feeling completely out of place in design but in such a way that feels otherworldly rather than misdesigned.

Now I’ll admit that I’ve become pals with the audio designer for Hailstorm through Twitter- and honestly, he’s a cool creative guy who should be looked into- and while there are some familiar sounding notes throughout the game, the real shine of Claire is in the nuances of the sound design. The aural undertones are great, but there are so many background noises that you don’t see such depth in other indie games of the style. One in particular- which will seem arbitrary but shows how much if affected my memory of the game- involved a fire alarm going off. As Claire approaches it, the alarm gets louder. As she passes by and leaves it behind, the noise distorts and fades. To not play this game with headphones would be a disservice, honestly.

Conclusion
Claire is, at its heart, a love letter to a number of games in the genre while holding onto its own identity. The story may take some time to reveal its strongest beats, but the payoff in the end really drives home the idea that the more you explore, the more you’ll get out of the game’s final stretch and ending. The goal seems to have been to set up a game full of hopelessness with just enough pinpoints of hope and levity to drive you forward. Other games that have tried this usually feel exhausting; Claire manages to avoid that pitfall.

It should be worth mentioning that the game does dabble in some pretty dark themes that some folks could find uncomfortable. While it would create some spoilers to indicate what they are, it is worth mentioning that the topics are not unlike plenty of other prominent horror games but for those who are sensitive to some of those subjects, consider this your note to be on the lookout. This shouldn’t deter you, though, as the team does a great job of hitting the beats they need to without leaning on these topics for shock or preaching matters.

If you’re a fan of indie horror and can look past a couple of missteps in design, you should definitely seek this game out. It’s on a few different platforms and even when not on sale, it tends to be a steal at around $10 or so. Claire offers up a solid and unsettling experience, though, that may not be groundbreaking but is certainly a satisfying experience that should be considered by any genre fan, and I’m looking forward to seeing what the developers have in the pipeline for their next project.

9 thoughts on “In Darkness, A Steady Light – PC – Claire – 2014

  1. Had this one in my Vita download list for a while but haven’t gotten around to it yet! Not sure it’ll be my cup of tea (I’m not particularly good with horror games) but it’s nice to hear that it’s generally well-made and enjoyable.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yeah, it definitely feels like a first effort but a really strong first effort. I wish I were a bit less desensitized to horror games and such so I could actually offer more guidance as to just how ‘horror’ something can be, but I definitely understand where you’re coming from.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I do like it whenever a game isn’t afraid to tackle dark themes, though at the same time, I think there are too many artists out there who do it just for its own sake rather than because they can actually put a meaningful spin on the idea.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I wholeheartedly agree. I almost wrote a bit more in-depth about the matter at hand, but while it’s not particularly deep or unique, they don’t dote on it for too long. I have a tendency to find these sorts of topics and analyze the way they are used by the developers, and I walked away from this one feeling pretty good on how they were broached and the part they played in the story.

      When those topics are utilized poorly, though- ooph.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I’ve had Claire on my Steam wishlist for a while but never actually gotten round to buying it despite if being so cheap when on sale. It sounds pretty good though so I think this is a game I’ll try and save for my Hallowe’en plans this year.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I don’t know if I ever pegged you for a horror fan- but I still have a lot to learn about my fellow bloggers, so I’m glad to learn that you at least have a Halloween gaming style!

      Especially for the price this goes for when it’s on sale, though (it literally just went off sale a day or two ago at $3 on Steam), I’d have to say it’s worth a strong look if you have any interest.

      Liked by 1 person

      • I like to think I have a strange variety in gaming tastes 😂 I loved Silent Hill 2 (who doesn’t!) and I’m currently making slow progress on Forbidden Siren, but horror games aren’t my ‘go to’ genre.

        I think Claire was £1.30 or something last time it was on sale, so I’ll definitely keep it in mind for later in the year.

        Like

  4. All these indie horror games titled simply a common woman first name all kind of run together to me. Claire shares the same space with Lisa which seems a lot like Amy, even though when you get down to the games themselves, they’re all very different. It would probably help if I actually played one.

    Although judging by what you’re saying here, Claire would be a good place to start. I really appreciate the games that manage to run the line between being obviously inspired by other works while still building off them and making their own identity.

    Liked by 1 person

    • That actually makes a lot of sense! I’ve heard great things about Lisa and fairly mediocre talk about Amy, so Claire might be a good middle ground to check out? I don’t really know much about the other titles, but it hadn’t really struck me how many of these titles there are until just now, haha

      Claire has strong Silent Hill vibes (and apparently Lone Survivor, though I haven’t played through that one either) so you can see similarities as you play though. At the very least, I felt like the team was trying to do something unique without lunging off of the diving board of “look at how much crazier and more out there we can be compared to X” that I’ve seen every so often. Hopefully, if you get to trying it, you enjoy it! 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

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