Clea is a title calling out to all fans of the atmospheric survival horror genre who have a strong aptitude for patience. Get ready to sprint, walk, tip toe, and hide your way throughout each level to escape a mansion overrun by monsters known as Chaos Servants. These grim reaper-esque creatures are the main adversaries throughout the title, chasing your character as you navigate the puzzles, unlocking keys and obtaining potions to find your way out.
The premise is intriguing right off the bat. The enigmatic context to the unfolding story of family destruction manages to hold suspense and mystery throughout the duration of the title. It’s impossible to discount the fully voiced-over cut scenes, which contribute to character depth. Atmospherically, the auditory effects are also a major plus. This game will have you tuning in just as much to the surrounding noise as the stunning art style.
I wish I could go on about all the positive features of the game, but they end there. Clea is a title that felt like it had overwhelming potential for a unique horror indie title, but was ultimately deeply flawed in critical areas. It ended up making the progression feel slow, tedious, and excruciatingly linear. Let’s unpack this further.
The story revolves around Clea, a girl who has attracted the attention of a god-like monster, War Maiden. This monster requires a human vessel to resurrect and bring Chaos into the world. This fate has consumed Clea’s family ever since she was born, and we see throughout the story that her family has slowly become consumed by the chaos. As Clea makes her way throughout the mansion, diaries and cutscenes slowly reveal the context surrounding her situation.
Given the elaborate setting and context, I would have liked a more guided story. With some titles, leaving the story up to the imagination of the player works really well, but for this title I felt like it would have benefited from a stronger and more driven story. After all, it seemed to touch on elements of alchemy or magic within the Chaos premise, unique to this title. I was left wanting to know more about this world, and somewhat unsatisfied with how little was given.
Gameplay left much to be desired, and was overall the most significant detractor to this title. For a survival horror game entangled with puzzle elements, you may not expect complicated mechanics. This is precisely what you get with Clea, except somehow those convoluted mechanics still feel lacking. It’s clear from the beginning that the mechanics of your character feel limited.
For example, your character has the ability to walk, sprint, or tiptoe. The tiptoe feature just seems unnecessary, as the same effect is largely achieved with just walking. Aside from that, you have the ability to see ahead and behind you using the shoulder buttons. This is a nice feature, except when you discover that it does not work when hiding in closets. This makes waiting to check for monsters tedious. You are forced to remain stuck waiting in this static screen for the footsteps to get closer. I would have liked to have a more engaging hiding mechanic than just sitting and waiting.
What I found beyond frustrating was that the Chaos Servants could kill you during the open door animation. You might react instantly and make it to the door ahead of the monster. Yet, prepare to still die from this slow open door animation. In fact, this was the primary cause of my deaths throughout the title.
Perhaps more importantly, the linear progression of the game made this title feel sluggish. Not just mechanically, but even the puzzles are strewn out in a linear fashion. This makes the game feel closer to a walking simulator. There’s no variation on how to play— you open doors, walk around, run away from monsters, and hide in closets. Even when obtaining items, there is no searching or investigating element— all items that you can acquire are found floating in front of you. The puzzles also have this same obvious “in your face” solution, in which it was impossible to feel challenged. In fact, most of the challenge can be summed up to testing your patience on how long you are able to wait in a closet and walk your way through levels. Everything feels exactly the same throughout the entire play through, and ends up feeling more tedious than anything.
It would have been nice to see a feature incorporated to perhaps hide or climb behind boxes or furniture to avoid the monsters. This would have added variation to the linear style, and given the character more options on how to decide navigating each level. Another neat option would have been to include tunnels or vents that the character could crawl through. This would be an engaging mechanic to get around the Chaos Servants more efficiently, while incorporating that same hiding element. In its current condition, it feels as if there is no creativity to choose how to play the game.
Graphics & Sound
This is an area that Clea accomplished really well. The art style is unique and intriguing, almost doll-like. It gives the game a refreshing feel from other titles in the same genre, while setting up the story to radiate sinister and creepy undertones. Again, in its current linear fashion, even the art style can feel repetitive. It’s certainly an enchanting design, but this title needs more of it and in more variation to truly excel.
The sounds, similarly, also augment the atmospheric element. I mentioned it earlier, but it’s worth noting again— the auditory effects of this game are phenomenal. They demand the player to lend just as much attention to what’s going on through sound as what’s on the screen.
Clea has the potential to be a refreshing take on the survival horror genre. It’s premise is intriguing and mysterious, and above all unique. That said, it fails in significant aspects on the execution of the game.
For a title that takes around one to two hours to complete, it needs to make use of that short time to engage the player. In my experience, this game did not do that effectively. I spent an overwhelming amount of time walking and hiding. That said, I firmly believe that this title can excel with some structural changes. Namely, it needs improvement in adding variation to the gameplay. I look forward to a sequel that has refined these elements.
For now, if you’re a fan of this genre and have the patience of a Saint, then I implore you to give this title a try. It may just satisfy that survival horror craving.
Clea is available on the eShop now.