I love the horror genre, but I’ve always preferred the more psychological side. Jump scares can be great, but they’re not for everyone and are are often poorly executed. When they add nothing to the overall experience aside from the shock horror of being scared out of your skin every time you enter a room, they can sometimes leave you wondering whether or not they’re truly necessary. That’s what intrigued me about Clea – it’s advertised as a jump scare-free experience, meaning it doesn’t instantly alienate those of us who don’t like jump scares.
Set within the Whitlock Mansion, the game begins with a young girl named Clea celebrating her birthday alongside her brother, Ed, and one of their family’s maids – Florine. The celebration is cut short by an animalistic growl, which prompts Florine to go and investigate. It turns out that the monsters Clea’s parents have been experimenting on – Chaos Servants – have escaped and are now prowling the mansion. Alone, Clea and Ed must search for her parents and Florine and escape, all while avoiding the Chaos Servants. Of course, not everything is as it seems, and through notes and journal entries scattered throughout the mansion, Clea slowly begins to discover the dark truth of what has been going on in Whitlock Mansion.
Sound and Design
Most of InvertMouse’s work has been with visual novels, so it’s no real surprise that Clea has the same sort of anime-esque aesthetic going for it. It’s a side-scrolling game, and I actually thought that worked really well for it. You’ve got a very limited field of vision, and even though you can peek left and right to increase your view marginally, it made for some pretty tense moments. It’s simple and clean, with a good use of lighting to add to the overall atmosphere. I’d even go so far as to call the design cute – in a creepy kind of way. There was a lot of variation when it came to enemy design too. Each level introduced a new enemy, from the standard Chaos Servant we’re first introduced to in the beginning to spider-like ones and even invisible enemies.
Sound is utilised just as effectively but plays a much bigger role than simply creating atmosphere. Sure, there’s some real melancholic music that fits the whole manor-overrun-by-monsters vibe, but it also forms a substantial part of the game, which is why at the beginning, you’re advised to use headphones. When she’s running, Clea’s footsteps are louder, and you might need to sprint if you unsuspectingly happen upon a Chaos Servant, unless you really need to make a hasty getaway because chances are you’ll just end up clueing them onto your position. Sound is most important when avoiding them altogether. You can listen for their footsteps and any other noises they might make, but I found that these could be misleading. The most reliable way of locating an enemy is through listening for the sound of Clea’s heartbeat, which picks up when they’re in the vicinity, so more often than not, you have plenty of time to find yourself a hiding place – Clea is full of plenty of conveniently placed closets for you to duck into. There are also opportunities for you to use sound to your advantage even further by making noise to draw the Chaos Servants out in order to sneak around them.
Clea also boasts full voice acting – something that is somewhat rare with independent games – and while the game only features a few characters, all of them are voiced by actors who have at least a handful of credits to their names.
The controls for Clea are very easy to come to grips with. It’s a survival-based horror, and all you really need to do is avoid monsters and hide. I mentioned earlier how you only have a limited field of view but can peek to extend this – well, you can peek through keyholes too to make sure the coast is clear too. The only problem is that there is a risk of a Chaos Servant being in the process of opening the door. You can’t fight them, so if they catch you, it’s game over. Scattered throughout the game, however, are candles. There are only a handful of them, so you’ll want to use them sparingly, but when lit, any enemies in that room will run away from you. There’s no time limit either – it remains active until you leave that room, which makes them pretty useful when you’re in a tough spot.
Escaping Whitlock Mansion is no easy task for Clea. Not only does she have the Chaos Servants to avoid, but there are a number of puzzles for her to solve to proceed, some that require you to press buttons in a specific order, while others are more like mazes you have to navigate your way through – all without being caught by Chaos Servants. The puzzles were relatively simple, but they added a nice additional element to gameplay on top of the hide and sneak mechanic that makes up most of the gameplay. In keeping with the birthday theme, birthday cakes are scattered throughout the game, which enable you to save. There are only a few on each level, so you should make sure to save whenever you come across one, or you might end up losing a fair bit of progress should you get caught, especially if you’re not playing with unlimited saves enabled.
Clea was a little short though, with six levels that can easily be completed in under two hours, but with different modes and challenges and rooms that can easily be missed, there’s reason to replay. You might find that you uncover more about Clea’s family if you do this as like the rooms, there are journal entries that can easily be missed, and these provide much more insight than the cutscenes themselves.
Clea is an eerie psychological survival horror with a lot of atmosphere and plenty of secrets to uncover. While it was short – I feel the story could have definitely been fleshed out – the additional modes and challenges provide me with enough incentive to pick the game up again. In that respect, the shortness of the game actually works in its favour. I’m much more likely to replay a 2-hour game than I am something, say, 20 hours long. If I hadn’t been given the chance to review Clea, chances are I wouldn’t have picked it up, but I’m glad I did. It’s definitely a hidden gem – something you should definitely give a try if you like a darker narrative but aren’t a big fan of jump scares. A sequel is set to hit Steam (and hopefully Nintendo Switch) in 2021, and I’m looking forward to playing it.
Platforms: PC, Switch
Release Date: 30th October 2020
Gaming Respawn’s copy of Clea was provided by the publisher.