Publisher: Sekai Games
Genre: Adventure, Horror, Puzzle
Age Rating: Pegi 12
Release Date: 30/10/2020
A code was provided for review purposes.
When the sound of an intruder interrupts her birthday cake, Clea and her brother Ed head out into the quiet halls of the mansion in search of their parents. However, something sinister has its eyes on Clea, and she may prove to be her own worst enemy.
Is Clea worth sneaking a peek? And will Clea ever get to eat her birthday cake? While I can’t give away the latter, read on to find out about the former!
Let’s be very clear from the start – Clea is a stealth-based horror game. When you’re not trying to hide from monsters, you’ll generally be spending your time running from them. If patience isn’t your thing, then you may want to look away. Otherwise, this could just be the right game for you.
Sound plays an important part in Clea, similar to Maid of Sker (which I recently reviewed here). The game recommends that you play with headphones, and while I was able to get by on a trial run without them, I’d have to agree that they enhance the experience. As you make your way around the mansion, listening for monsters to judge their movements is absolutely key to success.
Clea herself, as you’d expect from a young girl in a horror scenario, largely cannot fight back against monsters, and needs to hide from them as best she can. You do have the option of using arcane candles to scare off monsters in a pinch, but as these are also used for saving, I avoided using them against enemies entirely.
You can hide in cupboards to elude monsters and flush toilets to lure enemies to specific spots. Fortunately, the mansion is particularly liberal with toilets, and you’re never too far away from one. While listening out for monsters, you also have the option to peer through doors to see if they are on the other side.
As with many classic horror games, your goal is to traverse the mansion while collecting keys and avoiding monsters. There’s very little downtime in Clea – while there are a few story sequences scattered amidst the shadowed halls, you’re very rarely in a position to look around safely outside of those. I do tend to favour downtime in horror games as it makes returning to danger that much more daunting, but Clea is a much more direct game in that regard, especially given its overall structure.
Setting the Mood
Each stage has medals that you can earn for managing certain extra objectives – for example, completing a stage without flushing a loo. There’s also an Arcade mode you can activate for a New Game that tasks you with earning points by playing in a particular way. Completing the game unlocks higher difficulties, and you can get new outfits by attaining specific ranks throughout the story.
Oh, and if you really want to suffer, there’s an option to have all enemies be invisible. For some reason, I’d expected it to be a fun bonus to be invisible yourself, but I was swiftly corrected. Should you successfully complete the game in Invisible Mode, though, that dream will be yours.
Ah yes, perhaps we should talk about saving and difficulty settings while we’re here. When you select to start a new game, you’re presented with two difficulties – Light or Dark. I didn’t see a description of how each difficulty worked and was nervous that I was signing myself up for incredible frustration. All the same, I ended up going with Dark, which I felt provided a good balance of punishment and reward
I’m not an enormous fan of limited saving as I tend to be a tad too enthusiastic to save. There is an Infinite Save mode if you feel the same way. However, I figured that the game’s structure was likely designed around limited saves, so I went with that. This can result in repeating large sections, but I generally found that once I “understood” a particular stage, it didn’t take too long to retrace my steps.
If Looks Could Kill
Clea has a very distinctive art style, combining smooth 2D sprites with minimalist 3D backdrops. It has the feel of a storybook or cardboard puppet theatre, so anyone (like me) who has ever found puppets off-putting will find this similarly unsettling. The Chaos Servants wandering the corridors have a disturbing sway to their motions, as though dangling from strings.
I played this on the Switch and found that it performed well both docked and in portable mode. Its visual style is well-suited to portable play, and the sinister atmosphere lends itself to playing huddled up in bed at night.
When it comes to horror, I feel that the unstated is probably the most important part of creating atmosphere. While the story does overstate some of the immediate mysteries, it still leaves a lot unspoken. What exactly is this world that Clea inhabits? We only see the mansion, and everyone there reacts with little surprise and an odd lack of fear to the monstrous creations that now inhabit the halls.
Is the world outside the mansion like this as well? Is the supernatural a part of everyday life? As I played, I found myself wondering what awaited Clea even if she did manage to escape. This was always something that I found effective in games like Dead Space, where I had the distinct feeling that even if I survived, I would still be in a dark and hostile universe.
In terms of downsides, it has to be said that Clea is a limited game. I mentioned before that Clea is very direct, but that does mean that there’s little variation to be found. A couple of new monster varieties pop up as the game goes on, but you’ll still largely be hiding in cupboards or flushing loos to misdirect enemies.
I felt that things were shaken up enough for this not to be a major problem overall. Still, there were times when I would’ve liked to spend more time exploring Clea’s strange world and mythology, or wrestling with monster-free puzzles.
But at the same time, I feel like it’s the same as arguing that the original Super Mario Bros should have some story sections between its various platforming stages. Perhaps it would suit some people, but it’s also not the experience that Super Mario Bros aimed to provide.
Another thing that stood out to me was that wardrobes, if anything, seemed almost too useful. Monsters lack the ability to snatch you out of them, as far as I ever found. On more than one incompetent occasion I made a reckless dash for a wardrobe and hid within a Chaos Servant’s sight, but they just gave up anyway.
While Clea is still an unforgiving game overall, and I generally don’t like being punished, this particular scenario always felt like I shouldn’t really be surviving!
Clea is a game that shows a lot of promise, and I want to rate it a lot higher. It’s well-designed and provides a solid experience for its duration, but it suffers from being perhaps a little too focused.
Still, I’m encouraged to see that a sequel is coming in 2021, and I’ll almost certainly be picking that up when it arrives. For now, if you’re feeling brave, I recommend grabbing a copy, some headphones, and maybe a few spare candles…