Nowadays, many horror-based television or video game series heavily rely on jumpscares to spook the audience, something that people increasingly get frustrated by, myself included. However, this does not include Clea – a horror game, developed by InvertMouse and published by Sekai Games, in which you don’t have to worry about annoying pre-scripted screamers popping up into your face. Instead, it’s a side-scroller that focuses on atmosphere and your stealth skills which you will need to survive.
In the game, you assume the role of Clea who is accompanied by her brother Edmond. Your aim is to escape the Whitlock Mansion and evade the monsters that stand in your way. With no means of fighting back, it’s your job to make sure the both of them stay safe using any action at your disposal.
One of the main aspects in the game is finding certain key items (emphasis on *key*) to proceed, which you will usually spot laying on the floor or receive as a reward for solving puzzles. To stay alive, you need to take into account that you are always surrounded by danger – not only are the Chaos Servants on the constant lookout for you as they are listening to your every step, but you will also, very often, unwillingly draw attention to yourself and end up being followed by strange creatures like spiders that will attack you if you turn your back on them. Remaining silent is a crucial part in making it out of the mansion in one piece – to avoid trouble as much as possible, sneaking through the hallways is a much better option than running like a maniac to quickly reach a certain location or another floor. If you hear any steps or weird noises that are not caused by Clea or her brother and you want to make sure that you are somewhat safe at your current position, you can always tilt the screen to the left, right or peek underneath doors. If there's nothing there, you are (most likely) free to continue exploring. By utilizing items you might have found on your way out, you are able to ward off incoming attacks by the Chaos Servants that roam the building. Alternatively, you could lure the enemy in by misleading them with loud sounds and then hide in small spaces like closets until they leave.
While the gameplay might be fun at first, it gets repetitive extremely quickly. Usually, it’s the same procedure for each chapter: sneak along the hallways to avoid monsters and solve puzzles to locate objects which are required to progress the story. On an almost permanent basis, you are restricted to sneaking instead of walking or running as either of these options are just way too noisy. Unless you have a strategy to confuse or evade the unwelcoming monsters lurking in the dark (and a reason to even use said strategy), you will pretty much always have to resort to stealth tactics.
So why *is* the game scary? Though the fact that you have to control yourself and cannot dash through the mansion without getting caught might be irritating, having to watch your every step and being completely defenseless in the ever-frightening scenery beyond the walls of the Whitlock Mansion are what make up the horror factor. I was extremely spooked when certain objects would just warp out of nowhere, for example when a peaceful portrait I had previously passed turned into a photograph of a bloody smileyface that just stared into my soul. Despite these little details though, it’s worth mentioning that you will repeatedly find rooms that just seem copypasted from one location to another (mainly bathrooms which appear, in my opinion, unusually often on each floor).
Since we're talking about a Nintendo Switch title here, another topic that plays a big role is the game's performance in both docked and handheld mode. There's nothing else to say other than that it runs perfectly smooth in either situations with little to no framerate or graphics issues at all. For a horror game, I find the art style simple and yet cute, in a good way - accompanied by the sound effects, Clea perfectly creates the feeling of unease and constant fear of what's hiding inside the mansion.
In conclusion, it is easy to say that Clea is a fun game with quite a number of flaws. You can tell that its developers put a lot of thought into the process of its creation, especially the story. They also did not cut back on ideas for extra bonuses that make it more fun – there are costumes, new difficulties and extra gameplay features that can be unlocked by fulfilling certain conditions in a playthrough. However, I kept on waiting for something that would exceed my expectations or leave me in awe during my playtime. This game had some potential for even more interesting content which remained unfulfilled. Regardless of this though, I can recommend the game and am very much looking forward to the upcoming sequel, Clea 2.
7.0 / 10
+ great concept that does not rely on jumpscares to scare players + interesting plot and characters
+ no jumpscares
- mediocre execution of said concept - repetitive, predictable and sometimes frustrating gameplay
This review covers the Nintendo Switch version of Clea. I would like to express my sincerest gratitude to InvertMouse and Sekai Games for providing me with the opportunity to play this game. Clea is now available on Nintendo Switch, PC, Mac and Xbox One.