Decay: The Mare brings back the days of simplicity – static backdrops, hidden objects and minimal voice acting. First things first, Decay: The Mare isn’t a survival game. The purpose isn’t to stay alive (although naturally, this is pretty important) but instead to solve puzzles and progress through each linear chapter of the story, unravelling bits and pieces about the fractured and muddled state of mind that Sam, the protagonist, is caught in.
• Developer: Shining Gate Software
• Publisher: Daedalic Entertainment
• Reviewed on: PC
• Also Available On: Mac / Linux
• Release Date: Available Now
The game is extremely non-intensive with its retro art style and ambiance. First-person perspective feels particularly significant in Decay: The Mare, as the fact you never see the main character’s face – or rarely anyone else’s, for that matter – seems very fitting when the story deals with strong themes of isolation and a loss of identity. Yet it is more so towards the end of the game that the story seems significant – for the most part, the game-play is centred on puzzle-solving and jump scares (which do at times feel a little cheap).
Perhaps if there wasn’t the impression of a genuine poignant story-line, this is as much as Decay: The Mare could offer. Yet luckily the chilling interactions in the game, particularly in the final moments, attempt to tie the various clues and individual puzzles together to form a meaningful conclusion to Sam’s experiences. The settings are surreal as Sam appears to suddenly jump between his waking moments in a rehab facility to dreamlike visions of rooms that exude desolation and bad memories. The environment is incredibly eerie, becoming increasingly so throughout the game. The creepiest element is probably the uncanny paintings and photographs found in each room, which are genuinely scare-inducing purely for their surrealism and oddness. I wouldn’t stare too long…
So whilst the jump scares that are met with initially – the first episode makes full use of these, coupled with a generic-looking dead something popping up occasionally – are a little tiresome, there are features of Decay: The Mare that convey more subtle terror, the sort of odd discoveries that play with your mind. Although, it’s hard to completely avoid ridiculousness. The reoccurring character of “disembodied arm in handbag” suggests this.
Episodes 2 and 3 definitely broaden the game-play beyond the generic feel of the opening episode, with a lot of the playability lying in the puzzle solving. This is important given Decay: The Mare‘s linearity – the puzzles are generally quick to solve and enjoyable, acting as the main source of engagement (which perhaps explains why the occasionally naff horror elements don’t feel too bothersome.) One very big thumbs-up for Decay: The Mare comes from the traditional approach to puzzle-solving, where the player will actually have to retain information and clues in their memory if they want to progress. The inventory in this game is incredibly simple, and there is no log or journal to keep you on track, so it is largely down to you to pick up on potential hints in the environment. Of course, you cannot be expected to know that the wall painting you saw three rooms ago will be one of the clues necessary to finish the episode – back tracking is pretty much inevitable, but the game cannot be accused of hand-holding. The hint system is also super straightforward. Clicking the question mark that pops up on the bottom-right if you’re taking a little too long to find your way summons a flashing icon that indicates which direction to head in. This is the extent of it, and proves more useful than you may think. Decay: The Mare‘s setting may be evocative, but it’s not very diverse – it doesn’t take much to lose track of which door leads where.
Decay: The Mare definitely offers some interesting originality in its puzzles as well as in its underlying story. The game-play is markedly simple which acts as a blessing as well as a shortcoming, for there are a great number of intriguing objects and images in the environment that may serve to further the atmosphere of the game if they were interact-able. However, playing through each episode doesn’t require much of a time investment due to this, as all of the possible interactions are integral to the progression. Objects like the Polaroid camera in Episode 2 and the pocketwatch in Episode 3 add a unique variation in the game-play, changing up the process of puzzle-solving and keeping it fresh.
The final moments of Decay: The Mare give the odd, philosophical opening credits to each episode more of a purpose – ‘What is a friend?’ – and the conclusion is substantially chilling. Yet the story doesn’t feel hugely important, perhaps because it is only in the closing chapters of the game that it makes itself relevant. If you’re looking for a traditionally-designed point-and-click horror game that is engaging for its spikes of scariness, its eerie environment and enjoyable puzzle-solving, Decay: The Mare is a worthy experience to spend four or five hours with.