'A Magical Dolphin Plays...' is a series of short blogs where I write in-brief about my experiences with some of the lesser known games I've played and hopefully explain a little bit about what goes on in the game and how the game feels overall, before offering my thoughts on whether or not I think the game is worth recommending to others. Hope you enjoy!
Hey there guys. Panzadolphin56 here, I haven't really written anything for awhile but having picked up a copy of 'Claire' recently on Steam I found myself with the sudden urge to write about my experience with the game. Hope you enjoy der words!
This is going to be something of an extended 'A Magical Dolphin Plays...'
as I basically want to touch on the same sort of stuff I have talked about with the other short games I've played so far but also want to go into a bit more detail about the game and do a sort of mini-review of Claire, as the game itself is too big to be classed a brief experience but not something I'd consider an epic journey either. It's a relatively short game.
So what is Claire?
Claire is an indie horror game about a young girl who finds herself trapped within a nightmare world filled with memories from her past. I won't go too much into specifics about the plot but it borrows a lot from games like Silent Hill 2, 3, a bit from Haunting Ground (I guess) and seemingly from Lone Survivor as well.
The game is story-driven for the most part, being more about Claire's psychological state of mind and past than anything, but the bits of story exposition are broken up by long sections of gameplay. The gameplay in Claire mostly consisting of you exploring 2D environments not too dissimilar to what you might find in a game like Silent Hill or Resident Evil – abandoned hospitals, schools and apartment buildings being the focus of the game.You explore, you hunt for key items and supplies, talk to the odd NPC, evade monsters and occasionally hide in the odd closet or two.
What I did in the game: (I won't recount the whole experience here, just give you the general gist as the game is at least four hours long...)
The game starts on a black screen, with text popping up as some rather off-putting cutesy music plays in the background. Evidently I'm a little girl (and not just dressed up like one on this occasion! (oo-er) and I'm waking from a rather bizarre nightmare, into another nightmare, altogether much scarier. I am alone in my bedroom and need to find my parents, but the darkness won't let me escape.
I awake only to find myself in another nightmare, now trying to find my way out of a hospital. I stumble upon a dog that I seem to know and that seems to know me. As we explore we run across strange shadowy creatures, escaping sometimes through doorways other times by hiding in closets. Something begins to grow on the walls, strange fleshy aberrations. And then silent, faceless monsters pop up – they don't attack, they just wander around the environment, and are more creepy than anything you run across, if only because they do nothing.
After some more exploring I stumble across some NPCs, random characters who seem to each want something. An item. Each item takes me a little out of my way but they seem grateful once you help them. I keep picking up butterflies.
Much of the game consists of this, me exploring, stumbling upon clues to progress, all the while trying to escape the clutches of those bizarre shadow monsters. Every time you progress through an area you're rewarded with a bit more story, another piece of the puzzle. It mostly works.
For the most part it is an enjoyable game, especially if you're a fan of the Silent Hill games and enjoyed Lone Survivor's 2D horror style; it's a very story-focused game and despite the story sort of being predictable (it's pretty obvious from the start something isn't quite right) it still manages to have enough of an impact once it hits you. That said, the game does have some big problems - I will mostly overlook the reported bugs in the game, I think I got it after most of them had been ironed out but it's more the way the game plays that I have a problem with.
There's no way to kill monsters, you just have to run from them, but obviously they can kill you. So the game provides healing items. Pretty run-of-the mill so far. The problem is though that being the sort of run-and-hide game that Claire is there's nothing really to balance out your item use, there's no point in the game where you will definitely
need to use an item. So unlike say Resident Evil where you know no matter how good you are you will need
a certain number of bullets to get through a section of the game, there's no real sense that your supplies have purpose in Claire.
This is true of the healing items, but also of the flashlight batteries you get. Both are consumables you pick up, dotted around the environment, but if you play well you don't really need either. Personally I was using health like nobody's business early on, but once I'd figured out how to avoid the monsters I had way more than I needed. And in terms of the batteries, I decided early on I was fine with the lighter (the unlimited alternative to the more powerful flashlight) quite arbitrarily, and only realised as I got towards the last third of the game that that random decision had completely messed up the gameplay intent.
I had a similar problem with Amnesia when I played that through a second time, after I figured out all the game's tricks. Without the game really forcing you to use supplies at specific points it then becomes more about player skill, and the more skilled you are the more redundant those supplies become in terms of the gameplay experience. Feeding into this somewhat is how pointless the monster encounters feel too, sure they're surprising when they pop out but like with supplies once you've figured out the trick, the monsters aren't as troublesome. And again because you never have to necessarily use supplies to avoid the creatures they never feel that significant a part of the game. They chase you, the grating 'encounter' music plays, you run a few screens over, and that's it.
I also don't like that the monsters are never really explained, I mean I'm not looking for a birth certificate and baby photos but a little explanation as to why the nightmares take the forms they do would help – what's the significance of the growths on the walls? Why do the creatures look like children's scratchy drawings? What are the faceless monsters exactly?
If you've got this far I can imagine you can probably guess my feelings on Claire for the most part, and honestly it may seem as though I really don't like the game, but that's not true. I did enjoy Claire a lot, and I absolutely love a lot of where Claire draws its inspiration from in terms of story, feel, atmosphere and themes. It's just that as much as I love that and feel the story was done pretty well, I can't ignore the gameplay elements, I can't ignore how lightweight the survival aspects feel, or how pointless the monster encounters are.
For me at least a really good horror game is fundamentally about a great story, it's about horrifying you by touching on very basic, very primal aspects of being human, and as much as that is about good story-telling it's also about good gameplay mechanics as well. You can't draw a player in unless they feel the way the game itself plays is a part of the way the story is put across and experienced.
In that respect I can't really recommend Claire as something everybody should play, but if you are a fan of Silent Hill, are more of a story over gameplay person and don't mind a few hours of infuriatingly trying to navigate a bizarre maze, for the price point it's at Claire might be just the game for you! Still...
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