Random Dream Gak - Decay: The Mare
As someone who grew up on point-and-click adventure games, I am still prepared to admit their flaws. They can be onerous, with puzzles thrown in merely to extend gameplay. They sometimes have too-simplistic or too-complex interfaces. Mostly, though, they rely largely on a player being able to follow the same twisted sense of logic that the designers had when they built the puzzles. In certain situations, like in the Monkey Island series, a lot of this is played very effectively for laughs. Indeed, comedy and the point-and-click adventure seem to go well together, with classics like Day of the Tentacle and Grim Fandango. Horror and point-and-click adventure is a less slam-dunk melding of mediums, and though the mix can produce really surprise hits like The Last Door, often the sheer otherworldly quality of the horror game overwhelms any sense of even remote logic, like in Decay: The Mare.
Decay: The Mare comes from Shining Gate Software and was published by Daedalic Entertainment, a German company that has put out a number of point-and-click adventure games themselves, including the Deponia series and some games set in the German tabletop RPG Das Schwarze Auge (The Dark Eye). I've enjoyed these games for the most part, and feel that if anyone has earned the mantle of successors to LucasArts glory days of Point-and-Click, it's Daedalic (OK, or MAYBE Telltale...or Double Fine...). Picking up a horror game published Daedalic, I anticipated that I'd be in good hands. You can imagine my disappointment when the game kicked off and immediately put me in a literal nightmare.
I know I should have anticipated this from the title, but I really couldn't help rolling my eyes at the story cliché of "it's all just a dream" being trotted out. Particularly in how it affects gameplay and character. In gameplay terms, I found some of the puzzles logical (use sledgehammer to smash wall) and others completely ridiculous (place drawings in metal rings to activate a light switch?). Largely though, they just felt very aimless. You're placed in this "nightmare world" with very little backstory. All you know (or think you know) is that you are a patient in a rehab facility. What are you in rehab for? What is this facility like? Who else is in here with you? Well, the answers to those questions are certainly...surprising.
So look, before I go too far down the rabbit hole of ripping on this game's plot and nonsense-driven puzzle mechanics, let me first say that it does do some things quite well. The sound design and music are well done and subtle. The facility creaks and groans appropriately, lights hum with inconstant electricity, and the barest tinges of a piano and some synthesizers more than suffice to shape an evocative dread. Indeed, almost every design aspect of this game is interesting, with some truly effed up imagery to be found hanging on the walls and hidden in unlockables. But...it doesn't really MELD to anything. If we are to take all this imagery as a reflection of the dreamer - namely, you - then it should stand to reason that it all holds some kind of deeper meaning to the protagonist. The problem is we don't learn anything about the player character, and I do mean ANYTHING. There is the suggestion that perhaps the dream stuff you're seeing doesn't actually belong to you, but if that's the case then I also feel there's not enough of an explanation for how that's accomplished or why it's relevant to the rest of the game.
There's a lot of creepiness in Decay: The Mare, and a few jump-scare moments thrown in for good measure, but again it doesn't add up to real dread without the backing of a strong story or deep understanding. Take, for example, a really interesting idea in one segment where taking pictures with an old polaroid camera reveals hidden messages. The flash of black-and-white unveils some obscenely creepy imagery, and some distressing words, but without context the resonance of these items is quickly forgotten. I feel briefly perturbed, then I carry on.
For the price of $11.99, Decay: The Mare isn't a TERRIBLE deal, but it doesn't really offer much to set it apart from freebies I've seen online on Flash sites. Graphically, the game is unimpressive at best, with low-res renderings that look rather dated. I can forgive graphics if its a deliberate choice - and it may have been here - but 3D "retro" doesn't really do anything for me. By and large, the experience feels very incomplete. I often have dreams that I forget, and I'm sorry that I did, because they seemed quite interesting. Decay: The Mare is something that I'll soon forget, and I'm not at all sure that I'll care.