Decay - Part 1

Decay is an episodic thriller/horror adventure game. The story in Decay is very dark and the game has a very creepy atmosphere and a challenging gameplay.

Decay is a four part horror tale in the vein of D, Kenji Eno's 32-bit cult hit which utilized series of pre-rendered FMV clips to allow its protagonist Laura to navigate a seemingly 3-D world as she went about solving puzzles and gathering clues to unravel the mystery of a hospital massacre. Decay - Part 1 introduces the player to "the pale man," a serial killer pictured in a newspaper article found posted on a wall. After waking up in a bathroom after an apparent suicide attempt,the player stumbles through a house seeking answers to who he is and what has happened. It's captivating; it's stylish; it's done in under ten minutes.

Despite some disappointment in the first part's brevity, I'd imagine collectively the series will add up into a rather impressive work as Decay - Part 1 starts off very promising with a terrific atmosphere thanks to its stellar graphics and sound. The opening scene as the player character comes to his senses, a close-up shot of his eyeball as it rolls back into consciousness after an apparent hanging suicide is quite stunning, looking as good as any modern title indifferent of its indie label. The detail is excellent -- the wood grain on the floor behind the TV, the dirt on the bathroom mirror, the warbling scrawl on a note lamenting the deaths of family members, and so on all add to the game's realism and sense of place. Movement from scene to scene is smooth, and despite the many dark shadows canvassing much of the environment, all objects the player can interact with are easily recognized in the game. The excellent interface helps as well as the cursor shifts to a magnifying lens when something can be inspected more closely or a hand if an item can be picked up. Items in the player's inventory are stored as 3-D models which can be fully examined, and while the game itself is not in 3-D, at least in any traditional sense in regards to movement, the limitations of the FMV display allow for a more haunting, cinematic experience.

As with any good horror film, the scares come from more than just what's seen but also from what's heard. The game's audio is appropriately haunting with unknown rumbles and noises emanating from the unknown making Decay - Part 1 a thoroughly creepy experience. There's a part where the player enters a pitch black room with what I can only describe as the sound of a half-dead mouse nailed to a board being dragged through a crackling fireplace. Players know that they have to press on and find a way to see what's going on in that room, but the awesome audio design makes it so that they just would not want to know what the darkness hides. There's another puzzle involving pictures in a room, and the hidden and accompanying sounds jolt the player again and again. That particular puzzle can go on a bit too long, turning the audio and visual shock into a bit of a nuisance should the player dwadle, but that by no means lessens their impact on the player and the game. During play a low key ambient track maintains the dreadful atmosphere, enough to keep players on their toes even if they're unsure what exactly they've to be afraid of in the game.

Players familiar with FMV navigation found in the aforementioned D or Mansion of Hidden Souls will feel right at home in Decay - Part 1, moving about the house with D-pad directions along a somewhat guided tour of the environment. The story is told primarily via articles taped to walls and a bit of soliloquy ("What's this!? Did I really try to kill myself?"). Items can be found, picked up, and combined to use to solve the game's few obscure puzzles, most which are solved via unconnected hints or the player inferring what is needed by the puzzle's design. It's not possible to die in the game which allows the player to try anything and everything, but the results are often no less unsettling. The combination of the game's excellent audio and some clever set pieces make Decay a worthwhile horror effort only diminished by its abrupt ending. There's just not enough here to satisfy as a standalone entry, meaning players will have to partake of the other three chapters of Decay to receive a complete experience.

Despite critical acclaim, I've not played Shining Gate Software's Decay series due to the short reputation and relatively high price as each episode launched at 240 Microsoft points. Thankfully, the developer has reduced the price of the first part down to 80 points which was enough for me to bite and create interest in the other episodes. The demo prohibits players from advancing beyond the second room, and while there's not much left beyond that wall, the high production values and awesome atmosphere make it well worth the price of admission. There's not a whole lot going on in Decay - Part 1 due to the short length, but what's here makes for a shockingly good start.

★★★★☆
December 9, 2010
May 1, 2010 | 80 points
Developer | Video | Download

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