Gamers over the age of 30 may remember Myst – a PC adventure/puzzle game which was one of the big success stories of the 1990s. Played from a first-person perspective, Myst featured graphics which were fairly astonishing at the time – even though they were generally a series of static screens that you would navigate through, saving the occasional puzzle along the way. Decay: The Mare is a throwback to this genre, but in the present climate will this style of game still be able to hold the attention of gamers?
Unlike the bright, shiny graphics of Myst the visuals in Decay are dark and grimy – it is a horror game after all. However as I feared the stationary locations were fairly underwhelming and, crucially, weren’t especially distinctive – especially the numerous shots of doors. Several areas did feature animations and there were a few minor cut scenes but overall I wasn’t too impressed. A particular gripe was the fact most areas just had a single perspective shot, regardless of which direction you’d entered it from.
Despite this I never got lost during the game, but this was mainly due to the limited level sizes. Each of the three episodes only featured about 20 or so rooms, which leads directly onto a major criticism – the length of the game. Each episode took me just over an hour to complete and I reached the ending in a single sitting with only a single use of the ‘help’ facility. Beyond this there is virtually no replayability beyond attempted to collect the secret gold coins to unlock some fairly pointless concept art.
This quick progression was despite the quite pedestrian pace that results from just using a mouse to click through numerous environments, picking up objects and solving puzzles. This sedate journey was actually quite refreshing admittedly, and worked to some extent in building up the creepy atmosphere crucial to a horror game. However the lack of any actual peril detracts from that somewhat and the disturbing imagery and cheap scares become less effective pretty quickly. The occasional voice-over when reading newspaper clippings and other articles was also unintentionally amusing, the English accented narrator coming across as over earnest and awkward (like myself setting a voicemail message). Strangely the actual conversations in the game are completely silent, although that’s probably for the best considering the clunky dialogue.
I’ve been fairly negative in my review so far, but I have to admit I did enjoy the logic-based puzzles in the game which were quite challenging without being too difficult. It helps that years of playing video games meant I could often predict how to solve them reasonably quickly, but less experienced gamers could grow exasperated at how obscure some of them are. A slight suspension of disbelief is required as to why these puzzles exist in this mysterious house, but this won’t be unusual to anyone who has played a Resident Evil title.
My personal main criticism however is directed at the unhelpful cursor which frequently displays the ‘interactive’ symbol over plain sections of scenery merely because it passed over an actual item several seconds ago and has been slow to update. The existence of this irritating flaw is even more perplexing given that it happens throughout the game and must have been obvious during playtesting so quite how it hasn’t been addressed is beyond me.
Decay: The Mare had the potential to be a much better game than it is but is let down by several issues and an extremely short playing time (which wouldn’t be a problem if the experience was more rewarding). Those intrigued by the premise may find some enjoyment here, but I’d recommend waiting until it’s significantly discounted before making a purchase.
REVIEW CODE: A complimentary PC code was provided to Bonus Stage for this review. Please send all review code enquiries to firstname.lastname@example.org.