Halloween is here, and there’s been a glut of horror-themed games to commemorate it. The latest is Clea, a 2D stealth horror game in the same vein as Lone Survivor, Stay and Home, where the ability to sidle into a wardrobe is essential for survival.
Clea’s story is an odd one. You play Clea, a young girl who has awoken to find her parents and maids gone, and only her brother Ed around to keep her company. There’s no chance to enjoy the freedom with a Peaky Blinders binge, though, as malevolent beasts called Chaos Servants are roaming the halls of your mansion, and a demonic twin called the War Maiden taunts you as you progress. Through journals, you learn that your parents may have caused all of this to happen, so it’s off to find them you go.
We say that the story’s odd because Clea seems utterly unaware that her parents were a wee bit evil, or that they had an experimentation kink. Yet, the house has a prison block, a hedge maze, doors that are locked behind seals and puzzles, and no one can walk more than a few meters without getting monster drool on their neck. You’re going to have to roll with it: the ignorance of the main character is part of the package.
There are six chapters here, and each one has you moving from room to room, searching for keys, crests or switches that will open up future rooms. There’s some gentle puzzling in here, like remembering the right sequence of doors in a maze, and the tiniest bit of point-and-click shenanigans, as you use items on other items to make keys and the like. So far, so Resident Evil.
These are all sideshows, though, as the main event is the stealth. There is a Nemesis-like enemy on every level, completely unkillable and stalking around in the hope that they’ll catch you. They’re noisy as anything (baddies love to cackle and moan), so you’ll have plenty of audio triggers to hint that now is the time to hide. You also have the ability to look through keyholes to see the other side of doors, and press a bumper to spy further in either direction. Spot an enemy, and you will need to hot-foot it to one of a bazillion wardrobes to hide in (the Whitlock family were big on storage). To add more threat, Clea chucks some random events in too, like eyes on stalks that kill you if you don’t stop in your tracks.
That’s pretty much the gameplay of Clea: explore, hide, explore, hide. You’ll come across cakes that are Clea’s version of the Resident Evil typewriter (difficulty levels have rules about when you can use them), while books and journals make the plot increasingly clear. By the time you cross the finishing line at the end of the six chapters, you will have spent four to five hours with it.
In our case, those hours didn’t exactly fly by. A lot of Clea works well and the game is tense throughout but, by the end, we were happy to see the conclusion.
There is almost zero respite in Clea – you are constantly harried by enemies, and the soundtrack drums on your skull throughout. It can be too relentless: in a prison level towards the end of the game, a Chaos Servant and an eye stalk won’t let you walk for a few metres without forcing you to stop or backtrack. In a music hall level, you’re covering the same area repeatedly, completing the baddie obstacle course more times than you’d probably like. It’s tense and jangles the nerves, but sometimes you just want to make some progress, any progress, and to do it without the same spooky signature looping in your ear.
Then there are the dirty tricks that the enemies pull. The enemies love to ambush you at any opportunity. They freely travel through the same doors that you do, and a peep through the keyhole means nothing if an enemy is in the process of opening it.
Our problem is that we wanted to play Clea. The story isn’t exactly sensational, but there is enough mystery to unravel, mummy-like, that we were eager to get to the end. The levels mix things up well enough that understanding what was needed, like tapping on paintings in a correct order, was satisfying. But, too often, the game devolves to walking forward, spotting an enemy, then backtracking to somewhere safe, all with the objective annoyingly out of reach.
The game doesn’t exactly toss cakes at you either. As we mentioned, these are your save points, and you’ll be returning to saves that are 10-15 minutes old and letting out a sigh. When the turtle-like progress isn’t the most entertaining, you don’t want to do it multiple times. When you’re backtracking on top of all this – a maze and gallery get you exploring the same spaces repeatedly – a death can feel like torture.
Remove the stealth from Clea on Xbox One and you have a delightful little Resident Evil puzzler, hunting for keys, navigating mazes and pushing the right switches in the right order. The story amps the mystery up, and you’ll want to know what Clea’s neglectful parents were thinking. But that wouldn’t be Halloween, would it, so we need baddies to skulk and scare. The problem is that these enemies are more like coming across umpteen traffic lights and diversions on a road you just want to get down. We were hoping for an adventure rather than a few hours on Swindon’s ring road, and Clea will grate well before the end.