Way back in the hey day of the Xbox Live Indie Game marketplace on Xbox 360, developer Shining Gate Software released Decay: The Mare. It garnered a cult following from critics and gamers alike, with many praises for its narrative and gameplay. Over the years, it has also appeared on Steam with many PC gamers appreciating its visually disturbing aesthetic. Now, it arrives on current generation console Xbox One, and has it stood the test of time? Let's read on.
Unlike many horror games that play in either a 2D world (The Coma: Recut) or a 3D environment (Outlast), Decay: The Mare is a point and click affair with still pictures on screen instead of a fully explorable setting. Unusual design choice, and one that I was afraid would kill the immersion and suspense that I do love from my horror titles. It's a genre that if you get it right, you'll receive applause and cult status. But if you get it wrong, then boy will it get slammed.
You start off in an asylum as a recovering drug addict. Your name is Sam, and you're here to get better. Take your medication and relax, sleep it off. That's just the start of the game, and all seems normal. Until you leave your room for the first time. Bars adorn the dark room you enter, lit only by the light from a nearby TV. The only way forward is through a nearby door, and it's here that the nightmare begins.
Upon descending a staircase deep beneath the asylum, you are suddenly trapped by a grotesque figure that quickly vanishes. Now it is up to you to solve various obtuse puzzles, and discover what lies ahead. Nothing is handed to you on a plate, as you come across seemingly random items scattered throughout the depths of the asylum. Puzzles will need solving, and it's all down to trial and error such as the games of years gone by would have you do. Thinking outside the box is key to your success, and will always present you with a new path to take as you venture further into the mysterious and downright disturbing events that have transpired.
One puzzle in particular stumped me for a while, which revolved around 4 coloured balls and their whereabouts. Finding them was no easy task, and I just happened to find the last remaining one by chance. But exploration is always rewarding right?
While travelling through the dilapidated rooms and hallways, I did encounter some moments that prompted a jump scare and I, of course, reacted accordingly. The game itself relies more upon a psychological thrill to the senses, rather than pure horror and the sense of helplessness such as Outlast would provide you. Instead, Decay taunts you with thoughts provoked by a "what if" situation and this is just as good in a horror game as full blown scares can be. If done right.
Visually, Decay has a grainy appearance, and not crisp graphics, leaning towards a murky and dark overtone on still pictures. Almost as if you're looking through an old family photo album, albeit a twisted one.
There is a moment when you reach another person that suffers the nightmare existence with you, and expands on the story from his perspective. I'll leave the what and why for you to unravel. Needless to say, Decay doesn't sugar coat the game in any way.
The games ending can go one of two ways. Both of which reveal a plot twist that I never saw coming. There was no hint or suggestion to make me think this and it was a real eye opener. Shining Gate pulled this off admirably, and I would love to experience more, as the trio of episodes that make the full game can be completed in roughly an hour per episode, making for a relatively short game.
Overall, Decay: The Mare is delightfully bizarre, and visually disturbing title that fans of the horror genre would do well to invest time into. Not the prettiest looking game, but who realistically expects anything other than a dark and foreboding visual in a horror game?