Claire Extended Cut is a well-rounded attempt at horror on the Vita. There is a great air of mystery right from the get go in the game and thankfully the mystery carries on throughout, even if it does get a little muddled at times.
The premise is you play as Claire, you wake up in a hospital with your sick mum but as you walk around you realise there is something wrong and more mysteries crop up as you go on.
The actual gameplay is simple, you can walk around and interact with objects, with the key being to find the objects you need in order to progress to the next area. You’re given a light source to help light up the dark corridors but other than that there isn’t much to it other than exploring the unsettling world. There’s no combat to fall back on so the game relies heavily on its story and exploration for the horror experience here. On top of the usual health meter you also have a panic level to keep an eye on, the more panicked Claire is the darker the screen gets and the music intensifies, eventually you’ll start taking damage so you need to keep calm as well as healthy.
With the gameplay simplified like this the game focuses on letting you explore its dark and unsettling world and for the most part this works well. The music sets the tone perfectly, always leaving me slightly unsettled and never comfortable in my surroundings. The surroundings are usually always devoid of life with only a couple of exceptions, it all drives home that this world isn’t safe. With so few people to talk to it also helps make the few interactions seem oddly more meaningful, even reading the scribbles of other increasingly desperate and hopeless students in a library was a touching moment.
The story is hit and miss unfortunately, it starts with a simple mystery, whilst visiting your sick mother creepy things start happening. Unfortunately as you progress random story threads are thrown in making following the core plot rather confusing. One second you’ll be working your way back to your mum and the next you’re in an abandoned school looking for a way to evacuate. The game could have benefited from less distracting story beats but it thankfully doesn’t sour the experience too much.
The gameplay also isn’t without flaws though, navigating through the world can often be confusing with many rooms looking very similar. If you don’t want to go insane I suggest you get your head around the map provided in game which, in itself, can be difficult to get to grips with – a top down map for a 2D game isn’t exactly the most straightforward thing to get your head round.
Throughout your exploring you’ll often find items stashed away in shelves or rubbish bags, they’re mostly your run of the mill healing items or batteries for a torch. I never felt like I was running low on supplies though which in turn meant I never felt the need to go scavenging for batteries or healing items. This probably beats the frustration of not feeling like you have enough to clear the obstacles in your way but it does take away the fear of not knowing if you’ll make it to your next objective in good health when you have half a dozen healing items at all times.
The enemies in the game however just aren’t all that interesting, their vague and bland designs aren’t really intimidating or scary and their part in the game is simply to chase you down a corridor. It’s easy to run straight past them and just heal up any damage you did take on the way through. They are more distracting annoyances than actual threats which is a shame as they could have taken the game up a few notches on the intensity meter if the enemies were better realised.
Thankfully the idea of managing your sanity levels helps the game maintain at least some challenge, running through enemies and then healing is possible but it puts a lot of stress on Claire to do so. Keep piling on that stress without a break and you’re in more trouble than simply being chased. It’s an interesting mechanic that definitely plays into the game on higher difficulties which I’d recommend for a more challenging experience.
On the whole Claire Extended Cut does a really good job of building up a deeply unsettling world but unfortunately just misses the mark on a few design decisions that stop it from elevating into to something truly great. There’s an interesting and mysterious story here that whilst not perfect is more than enjoyable and shows that horror can work even on the little screen of your Vita.