I was quite surprised when I learned of Decay coming back for another run on Xbox One; I mean, I knew it was fairly successful on XBLIG, but not so much so that its developer thought it wise to give it another chance to shine in the spotlight. Well, that’s exactly the case here, and do you know what? For its lack of depth, its lack of content diversity, and its lack of polish, it rarely failed at scaring the living crap out of me. I wont go so far to pin this up there with the scariest of ’em all, but I will say that, at very best, it’s a passable horror.
The game is a compilation of all four parts that released back nearly ten years ago, and serves itself as an episodic point-and-click psychological nail biter. It’s clear from the menu’s interface that not much care and attention to detail is present; it all looking rather bland and basic overall. Here, you’ll find a shed load of options to select from, all of which are fairly self explanatory. On top of including all previously released episodes, the collection also stuffs in a range of extras that can be unlocked through completing set requirements.
These requirements tend to revolve around pretty standard stuff, such as completing an episode, fulfilling a task in a certain amount of time, and so forth. In doing so, you’ll be treated to some development insight through artwork and other like-minded tidbits. I’ll admit, it’s nice to see this, as, if anything, it gives you a firsthand look into the game’s growth from concept through to launch. When you’ve toyed around with some options, you’ll be all ready to dive on in head first. Worry not, this is not a hard game to gel with.
The game’s episodes are broken into four parts, each subsequent part unlocked once you’ve completed the part before it. The game’s story premise is purposely vague starting out. Players take on the role of an (initially) unnamed man that awakens after an attempted suicide. Upon freeing himself from a makeshift noose in his bathroom, the crux of play sees said fellow unraveling the mystery that lead him to such drastic measures, with an overarching theme present that revolves around a yet to be apprehended serial killer.
I wont go into any further detail, because, well, it would hardly be fair for me to spoil the story for newcomers despite how old the game is. Moving on. The game does offer up a short and informative tutorial from the outset, but in truth, the game is very easy to pick up and understand. You’ll control a cursor on-screen, and must move through a range of environments in point-and-click fashion. You’ll glean each area for details and clues, nab some items, and solve puzzles as you gradually push through the rather short affair.
Moving the cursor can be achieved through the left stick, with a slow-down/speed-up function tethered to the left and right triggers, respectively. There’s an inventory system in place that can accessed through tapping the Y button, and from there, you can examine and combine items (when necessary) through tapping the Y button and X button, respectively. The A button is what you’ll use to interact with the environment and items, as the D-Pad is what you’ll utilize to change the view of whatever room or area you find yourselves in.
Like I said, it’s all relatively straightforward. The same can be said about the formula of play. You’ll begin each part in a specific room or area of some sort, and in order to get to the next part, you’ll need to spend time sussing out the mysteries within. Throughout the course of each part, you’ll obtain paperwork and pictures that collectively gives you some more insight as to what’s going on, ultimately driving the story forward in a very grounded, hands-off sort of way. Outside of that, you’ll do the usual; exploration and some light puzzle work.
Exploring is as easy as you would expect it to be for a game of this type. You’ll simply click in the desired direction to be taken to where you need to go. Many rooms can be viewed in multiple ways, which is where the D-Pad – as alluded to above – comes in handy. For instance, in the first room you start out in, the bathroom, you can face the bathroom wall, the bathroom door, or the bathtub via stroking the D-Pad. Doing so will change your perception of each room, which is usually quite vital for item finding and puzzle solving.
The game is quite linear by design, meaning that there’s really no way to fail. You’ll often find that you can only go through specific routes to find something that will allow you to dive deeper elsewhere; rinse and repeat until you hit the endgame. Whether that be finding a combination to a locked door, finding a battery for a flashlight to illuminate a dark room, or anything besides, you’ll simply follow this pathway to progress. The game does get slightly deeper on a part-by-part basis, but no overly so. Overall, it’s very, very simplistic.
The game’s horror elements are quite well set, but can become fairly predictable; locked doors mysteriously opening, jump scares bouncing out at you, musical tension rising as you enter previously inaccessible areas, and so forth. Whilst this can rob the game of some grip, I’d be lying if I said the game didn’t catch me off-guard on more than one occasion. Hell, I crapped myself quite a few times, I’ll have you know. The scares feed into the game’s more direct puzzles, as well as the few mini game-like elements that you’ll engage with throughout.
One example; I entered a room that had four portraits hanging on a wall. Each portrait was that of a person belonging to a family, and underneath each portrait sat a shadow of unique height. In order to solve the puzzle, I had to move these portraits around so that each portrait was proportionate to the size of the shadow; children to the smaller shadows, and adults to the larger shadows. Once complete, the shadows darted out of view to the left. Looking to the left, I saw a final portrait, the portrait of the aforementioned serial killer.
The creepy thing was, this portrait was holding all of the previous shadows in place in a very sinister sort of way. Underneath this portrait sat a game of tic tac toe, in which I needed to defend myself three times to proceed. I’ll not drop any spoilers as to what happens when you fail to defend, but I will say that even when you fail at the game at any part of play, the generous checkpoint system ensures that you’re never respawned far from your last death. That, ladies and gents, is the crux of how Decay functions. It works, but it’s far from great.
Once you reach part three, despite how short the game is, you’ll have grown privy to the developer’s sense of horror, meaning that the scares become less frequent due to learning the developer’s tricks. It’s still quite eerie, mind, but not so much so that you’ll be jumping quite as much as you were beforehand. In regards to the game’s length, you can run through all parts in a matter of hours, if that; the first part taking less than twenty minutes to complete, and each subsequent part only being slightly longer than what came before.
That being said, you can indeed find replay value through seeking out multiple endings and unlocking all of the main menu’s extras, but for me, due to how linear the game is, I couldn’t stomach a repeat run through. The game’s greatest drawback, however, is that it’s not all that interesting. Sure, the story has a way of hooking you at the start, but it all falls apart soon after, and truth me told, becomes quite forgettable. Had this been more interesting, and housed just a bit more depth in regards to its gameplay, it might have gone pretty far.
Through and through, Decay is a serviceable horror, nothing more and nothing less. Scares alone will only get you so far, I’m afraid. This is a game that practically shoehorns you through its short trek through little more than lack of mechanical depth, and one that doesn’t really up the ante much at all. Whilst scary when it wants to be, and whilst somewhat clever in parts, and paced adequately, there’s nothing particularly memorable on show. You’ll play it, you might enjoy it, and then you’ll forget about it before the credit roll.
In regards to its visual and audio design, Decay, once again, is merely serviceable. Whilst there’s quite a bit of variation to the game’s environments, the visuals are quite muddy and unrefined. I mean, I know were talking of a near decade old game, but for a current gen comeback, some more clarity would not have gone amiss. The audio, whilst sharp and consistent, becomes repetitive before long. Bottom line? If you’re looking for another horror and can overlook the above, this will serve you well. Just, don’t expect too much.
Decay’s biggest drawback is that it hasn’t aged very well at all, in fact, it’s aged terribly, and for as scary as it can be, it’s a tough one to recommend. If you’ve a soft spot for the series, the game’s comeback, with all of its additional extras, will no doubt please you. If you’re a newcomer, on the other hand, and you’re looking for a horror that’s engaging, deep, and diverse, there are far better options available in the storefront for around the same cost.
This game was tested and reviewed on Xbox One. All of the opinions and insights here are subject to that version.Want to keep up to date with the latest Xt reviews, Xt opinions and Xt content? Follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube.