I admit that you’ll rarely find me playing spooky games, especially those with tense moments or comprised of many jump scares, but every now and again I’ll dabble in the horror genre if a game looks interesting and not too stressful. Recently I’ve played through the interactive narrative horror titles Man of Medan and Little Hope, which rely on jump scares and horrific imagery to scare the pants off you, but today I’m taking a look at Clea, a stealth-based horror game which has no jump scares, only survival.
Clea is developed by InvertMouse, a developer who has released a number of Visuals Novels on Steam previously. It seems that Clea was the first time the developer branched away from the Visual Novel genre, with the sequel (Clea 2) planned for release next year – there’s even a demo for it on Steam right now. I’d not heard of the game before we were offered it for review, but the interesting visual design and promise of ‘no jump scares’ had me intrigued.
I’ve played a few games similar to this in the past so I thought it would be fun to see how this spooky indie title compares to them. Let’s see what I thought…
In terms of the story, Clea doesn’t really give you much to go on. The game begins with you, your brother, and one of your house maids celebrating your birthday in a cold, dark, empty room within a massive (I presume) mansion. After querying where your parents are, the maid goes off to search for them, leaving you alone with your younger sibling. Not contempt with staying putt and obeying the carer, you decide to head out and look for your parents yourself as you hear the noise of the Chaos Servants patrolling the hallways.
Just who are these Chaos Servants and why are they wandering the mansion in search of blood? That’s but one of the mysteries which you’ll uncover as you play the game. Another mystery is presented to you within the ‘birthday room’ via a note which was pinned on the wall from your ‘daddy’. The note is for your brother, telling him to ensure his sister (you) drinks her potion once a day – refusing to do this will supposedly lead to you becoming unstable and ‘losing control’. The letter ends with your parents telling you that ‘none of this is your fault’ and that they will ‘find a solution’…
So, you’re instantly thrown into a mysterious situation with very little exposition or explanation as to what’s happening, why you’re being stalked by demonic servants, and why you need to drink a potion – not to mention what actually happens if you fail to drink it every day. All you know at this stage is that you need to move cautiously and work your way through the mansion by solving the puzzles on each floor.
As you progress through the game you’ll be presented with mini cutscenes between each chapter. But, if you want to fully understand everything then you’ll have to backtrack and find the various secret rooms that trigger playable hidden segments which explain more of the backstory leading up to the events you’re playing in the main game as Clea. These are worth seeking out, even if you use a guide to find the keys required (as some of them are well-hidden).
Clea is a survival horror game with various puzzles you must solve whilst also avoiding being caught by the satanic servants. As such, although the game promises no jump scares, I still found myself feeling quite on-edge and stressed whilst playing the game due to the fact that one wrong move could essentially mean you have to re-do the entire chapter all over again. If playing the game as it’s intended, you can only save once you reach a birthday cake (your parents seem to have placed them throughout the mansion for you) and if you have a spare candle – just like Resident Evil with its typewriter ribbons. But, if you find yourself in need of a helping hand, you can enable infinite saves which allows you to save without wasting a candle.
Why would you want to save your candles, other than to save more often? Clea is a defenceless young girl, physically she has no way to overpower the evil beings out to get her, yet she can use a candle to cleanse the floor she’s on and banish the Chaos Servants until she moves to another floor. This appears to be her one and only means of defending herself until you unlock other modes, so not having to decide whether to save or reserve the candle to clear a floor does help relieve the stress – a little.
As you descend the mansion’s many floors and gardens, you’ll come accross simple puzzles which are enhanced with the threat that you’re also being stalked. The simple task of initially finding a blank key and two attachments to form the correct key to unlock the first door sounds easy, but considering Clea is a little miss ‘Stompy’, you find that it’s a lot trickier than it sounds.
Basically, Clea is a horror puzzle game with stealth as its primary mechanic (if you wish to stay alive). It can be a little unforgiving and strict with the saving and difficulty, but this can be adjusted via various modes and options you unlock as you play.
Stealthily does it
As stated above, Clea is all about stealth considering you have to try and move throughout the mansion without getting caught by the speedy servants. However, I think Clea’s parents have either dressed her in tap dancing shoes or boots that are too big for her as she doesn’t half make a noise whilst walking around the non-carpeted wooden-floored hallways. Thankfully, in order to aid you in your quest of escaping this spooky prison, you can adjust Clea’s movement in order to adapt to the situation you’re in.
– The default walk cycle generates quite a bit of noise, alerting any servants within your vicinity – causing them to give chase and murder you in cold blood.
– If you hold down X then you’ll creep around at half the speed as normal, not making any sound at all. Clearly, this is the best way to move but it does make you very vulnerable if they happen to see you.
– Finally, if you hold Y then you can run like your dear life depends on it (it often does). This is the best way to get away from the enemies but it also generates the most noise, alerting all servants on the floor and sometimes indirectly telling them where you’ve hidden.
That’s right – it’s not a game in which you just run away from the enemies, you can hide in one of the many cupboards which are within most of the rooms on each floor. This is a common mechanic for survival horror games which have an antagonist chasing you. You can also distract your potential murderer by flushing the toilet – the noise will summon them as you hide then run past the hallway or room they were patrolling.
Aside from the cloaked Chaos Servants, you’ll begin to encounter other foes such as spiders you have to look at in order to scare them away (I didn’t think Clea looked that shocking) and creatures which look like eyeballs on stems which will cry out and tell the servants in the level where you are if you move when they pop up to take a peek. Seriously, as the game goes on it becomes more and more stressful due to the limited save points and faster enemies which appear.
Did you hear that?
One of the big positives for Clea has to be the sound design. The game itself has some creepy music at certain points within the game but it’s the ambient noises which fully immerse you. As such, wearing headphones is a must as the game fully utilises sound to enhance the spook-o-meter – you’ll hear the echoing footsteps of the servants as they walk around the floor your on, gradually getting louder as they approach you. Using this and the ability to look through doors (I imagine you’re looking through the keyhole), you can keep on top of where they are as you plan to avoid them whilst solving the puzzles and finding keys.
The sound itself enhanced the experience greatly, even more than some bigger budget titles with a similar premise as they tend to omit the detailed sound in favour of loud instantaneous jump scare events instead. Clea doesn’t have those moments but the suspense and anxiety it creates are far more impactful in my opinion.
As stated previously, although the puzzles aren’t that difficult, they are enhanced due to the fact you’re constantly being stalked by otherworldly beings. The first ‘puzzle’ is simply finding a few parts of a key and piecing it together correctly in order to open a door (similar to what we saw in Black Mirror), but they become a little more in-depth as you get deeper, such as finding your way through a maze of doors and interacting with symbols in a certain order once you’ve found the solution.
Nothing is too difficult or cryptic, which is great as you’ll find yourself more concerned with how to avoid the servants and find the next save point more than logically thinking how to progress.
I mentioned at the start that I’ve played two games which are similar to this format, they are Detention and The Coma 2. Both of these games have a similar design and mechanics to Clea but all of them have their own reasons to play them.
– Detention is a brilliant horror game about being stuck within a school at night, trying to escape the horrors which stalk the hallways as you uncover the truth behind strange events that have previously taken place. On a side note, there is a movie based on this game and I highly recommend it to anyone who likes the game.
– The Coma 2 is similar but the game branches outside of the school and brings side-quests and more action into the survival horror aspects.
– Clea is less ‘open’ than these two games, having you confined to a mansion which seems to only have a few rooms per floor (it’s more like a tower based on the layout), but it has puzzles and I personally found it tenser due to the way it utilises the sound and scarcer save points.
Clea begins with two difficulty levels, Light and Dark. However, upon completing these you’ll gain access to Chaos and Chaos+ modes – I’m not sure what changes in these more difficult modes but I imagine the enemies will be faster (or more alert). You also have the option to start the game with infinite saves from the beginning, with an unlockable Invisible and Arcade mode. Again, I’ve not unlocked these so I’m not 100% sure what they’ll do but I’m guessing Invisible means the enemies can’t see you (only hear you) and Arcade is all about getting points.
Speaking of ‘points’, Clea records your top scores for each chapter on Arcade mode. On Steam this is a global leaderboard but on the Switch, it’s just a local one which allows you to try and beat your own score or play against your friends and family.
Each chapter has a set of goals for you to beat, such as completing the level without running or completing it in under a certain time, but you’re only shown these upon completing the chapter – not before. This means you’ll have to play the game once without knowing the requirements, then jump back in if you wish to achieve them all. Completing these unlocks bonus artwork for you to peruse at your leisure. Additionally, you can unlock six costumes by completing the game on various modes or viewing certain endings – you get four costumes to choose from by default, making ten in total.
For an indie game priced at £13.49, you get a lot of content for your money – especially if you love the survival horror genre and like challenging yourself to unlock more bonus content. Not only do you have the main story but there are multiple endings, bonus/hidden chapters and harder difficulties to unlock and beat in order to grab all the costumes.
Clea looks great, it’s very simplistic but stylised to make it look creepy and cute at the same time. I had no issues with it running in portable or docked mode and the game scaled up to look really good in both formats. Also, the voice acting was well done with the perfect cast of voice artists that matched their on-screen personas. The music (the little it has within the game) was creepy, complimenting the scene, but the ambient noises and use of spatial audio are what really elevated the immersion in my opinion.
Finally, within the game you’ll notice a few clocks in the background – these seem to pull the time through from the system you’re playing on. I know it’s only a small thing but I thought it was interesting how it matched the time IRL as I played.
Clea is a very tense and suspenseful skill-focused horror game that relies on spatial sound over cheap jump scares. Although the puzzles are rather simplistic and easy to solve, this never bothered me as I was concentrating on how to avoid being caught at the same time – so simple puzzles meant one less thing to worry about! Don’t be fooled by the cute and charming visuals, the game gets pretty dark and the overall experience can be quite horrifying at times. If you like games such as The Coma and Detention, you need to give Clea a try – you’ll really enjoy it.
- - Interesting story with hidden stories to uncover
- - Cute visuals with a dark twist
- - The spatial sound is used perfectly, allowing you to hear where the enemies are
- - Lots of things to unlock and complete if going for 100%
- - Manages to creep you out and spook you without jump scares
- - The game can be a little brutal at first, making you lose an entire chapter of progress if you've not found a cake to save
- - Some things were left unanswered and explained by the end. Maybe they'll be expanded in the sequel?
- - The limited inventory reminds me of old-school survival games (which can be a good or bad thing)