What is it about horror that fascinates people so much? Why do we enjoy being scared? Personally, I think it’s the adrenaline. The rush of chemicals flooding our brain as we sense danger, followed by the relief when we realize we’re okay after. Horror movies have let us experience this for years, but horror games are an even greater experience. When we play a scary game, we’re actually in control, so the scares are directly towards us. It’s much scarier when we have to take the actions knowing something may pop out at us at any time. In previous posts I’ve mentioned that, even though I’m a bit of a wimp, I still play scary games. The most recent of which is the Indie game Decay.
Decay is available on XBL in four separate chapters. The story begins with the player waking up in an abandoned apartment building after apparently trying to kill yourself. As you search for clues about who you are & why you tried to do such a thing, you discover that all is not well. In fact, you’re not technically in the real world anymore. Instead, you’re trapped inside a dark, nightmarish world created by a serial killer dubbed “The Pale Man.” You, your family, & all of his other victims are his slaves in this dark world, & you have to find a way to set things right.
The gameplay is point-&-click adventure style. You move your cursor around to search the environment for items you need to reach the next area or solve the next puzzle. It’s pretty simple, since your icon changes whenever you scroll over something you can interact with. Part 4 changes things up a bit in that you move the entire camera (which is a bit disorienting). The game is heavy on puzzles. They range from finding an item you need to reach a key, playing tic-tac-toe with the dead, replaying a melody on a toy piano, to disarming a bomb.
Narrative: Although the story itself is rather sparse, I think the way you continue to find clues that slowly reveal more & more keeps you interested in it, & motivates you to continue through the game. Nothing is what it seems in this game, not even the player character. You begin by thinking you’re a man named Martin Wallace who killed himself because his daughter, son-in-law & granddaughter died in a car accident, but by Part 3 you realize that you’re not Martin… at least not completely. But by the end everything is tied together. I like that the character learns about what’s going on as you do. I have to give the developers credit for coming up with something original. The story doesn’t match anything I can recall in either games or movies. So for what plot is there, it’s interesting enough to drive the story on.
Mechanics: Simple but effective. What little controls there are work fine, but it’s nothing dramatic. There are no quick-time events or combat. But there are two gameplay elements that deserve special attention: the puzzles & the horror aspect. The puzzles range from easy scavenger hunts to mind-bending tests of patience. Especially in Part 4, the puzzles require a great deal of concentration & time. But it’s never the same type of puzzle each time. There’s a lot of variety, & you can tell the developers put a lot of thought into them. Although personally, I had a harder time with the balance section in Part 4 than anywhere else. I fell off that plank dozens of times — but I’ve always been bad at mechanics like that.
The second aspect that deserves attention is the horror aspect. After all, this is a horror game. Decay relies heavily on atmosphere, tension & subtlety. I constantly felt tense as I play through each part, just waiting for something to happen & not wanting to look. There were a lot of things that were creepy. Like the doll that keeps showing up, or after checking behind a shower curtain to find the tub empty you close it & there’s a thrashing figure behind it now, or having to search a room for clues when there’s clearly the shadow of a hanging man in the background. Most of the scares make you gasp. That’s not to say there weren’t a few moments that made me shout, “Jesus Christ!” I think the reason those truly frightening moments are so effective is because they’re so rare. If stuff’s popping up at you all the time you become desensitized.
Aesthetics: For an Indie game, the graphics in Decay are amazing. Everything has a dark, grainy quality that fits the game very well. The only complaint I have is that you’ll be seeing the same rooms over & over again as you go back searching for the next clue or the next item you need. However, this is a minor complaint, as most of the time you’ll find things slightly different from before (assuming you’re making progress).
Like the visuals, the sound adds to the atmosphere. For the most part there’s only music. And even though it’s almost all one song, you really don’t notice it because it fits the game so well. Slow, not quite dark & not quite sad. In fact, the few times the music changed I found myself not liking it, dreading why it had changed. But overall the music fits well. There’s also not much in terms of sound effects either, which makes it really stand out when there is something. You’ll find yourself jumping when you hear a door open or rapping coming from the closet. It should also be said that there’s no voice acting, with the few parts of dialogue being delivered in text. That being said, the way in which visuals & sound enhance the eerie game overcomes it’s sparseness.
Replay Value: Relatively low. Unless you just really love the game, there isn’t much reach to replay Parts 1-3. Part 4, however, has several different endings based on your choices near the end. There are eight in total.
Overall Score: 4
Final Words: If you’re the kind of gamer who can take their time to soak in the atmosphere of a game & likes to use their mind more than their trigger finger, definitely check this series out. But if you’re a twitchy action-junkie, steer clear.
Title: Decay Console: XBL Rating: Violence 3/Sex 0 (except Part 4 which scores 2)/Mature Content 3 Cost: 800 MP total (80 for Part 1, 240 for others) Developer: Shining Gate Release Date: April 26, 2011 (Part 4) Updated: September 26, 2018