Imagine waking up alone in your apartment with no recollection of recent events and only a mere idea of who you actually are. This is the desperate situation you find your character in when entering the world of Decay.
One of the greatest successes of Swedish developer horror game, Shining Gate Software’s Decay is the way the story is delivered. It is a point and click adventure game and there is very little written dialogue. It is through exploration and puzzle solving that you will discover what has happened and why. Through the opening credits you are shown images inside an apartment of a suicide note and a hanging body. The body appears lifeless at first but awakens. This is the only information you are armed with to begin your journey. Once control shifts to you, you will be viewing the world through the eyes of this awakened soul who wants desperately to remember how he came to be in such a state.
For the most part your character is alone. Other characters do play an important part in Decay, however. Game play reveals characters such as Martin Wallace, his daughter Emily and granddaughter Lisey, and Emily’s husband Jim. You will find out how their lives have all been affected by the dark character Mr. White through the help of a small helper appearing in a very curious form.
Interactive objects serve many purposes. Some will be cryptic messages leaving clues to more of the story others will be keys to unlock doors, tools for puzzle solving and other like items needed to gain access to new areas. One thing to make note of is the ability to combine objects held in inventory. Some items will be useless until paired correctly. This can be a bit frustrating if you are not aware that there’s still a missing piece to your tool and try to use it. That being said, the items are not too difficult to find and once you do find your missing pieces it should be fairly simple to determine where they fit in and what you should be able to do. Staying true to point and click adventure, your greatest challenge is to determine how your environment can be manipulated and how the tools you have been provided can work together to get the job done.
Puzzle solving is very well designed. You will find combination locks, matching, coded messages and even cameo appearances by classic favorites tic-tac-toe and Breakout. It is important to remember that the puzzles have an order in which they must be solved. Each solution triggers a new event. What this means is the environment is constantly changing and in order to keep progressing there will be times when you need to go back and re-examine areas where you’ve already been to look for newly unlocked items.
Such an amazing job went into Decay’s artwork and sound. The design team captured the feeling of being sad and alone so well in the environment from the derelict apartment building and dimly lit hallways to thumps and noises always just around the corner. The sunshine coming through windows has a grim appearance of its own. This was pulled off remarkably with darker shades of yellow and orange giving the feel of daytime slipping away. All around you objects which seem very much abandoned cast their long shadows along the walls and floors providing an eerie sense of something just not right. To confirm this, at the far end of a hallway riddled with graffiti stands the exit door to the building boarded shut.
The noises and fleeting “out of the corner of your eye” type images leave you certain that you are not quite so alone, however. It became questionable to me which would be worse, to remain alone in this horrible place and have to figure out the secrets it holds by myself or to actually catch up to the things that seemed to stay just one step ahead of me. As the game progresses and you fight your way to the truth the answer to that question will become more obvious. You will also find some comfort in getting a little help from an unlikely source.
Decay is an episodic game created by Swedish developer Shining Gate Software. Three episodes are available in the indie games section of Xbox Live. Episodes one, two and three have been released at 240 Microsoft points and each offers a free demo. However with the release of the third installment, Shining Gate also released an update for episode one which allowed them to drop its price to 80 Microsoft points. So, now is the perfect time to try it out. Episode four, the final episode, is in production.
This horror game is an excellent representative of its genre. It has many little surprise frights waiting for you. I spent quite a bit of time on the edge of my seat wondering what was going to happen. It was a very nice change from what has come to be horror in games today, blood and gore, to the psychological horrors of my own imagination working against me in an environment taken straight from a surreal nightmare. There are moments when your imagination will play a key part in stirring your fears and other moments when the game itself delivers the direct hit you’ve been anticipating.