Decay: The Mare (hereon referred to as The Mare) is a point n’ click that was originally released on Xbox Live Arcade for Xbox 360, and is split up into 3 episodes. Only two of the three were released for 360 but all three are included in the Steam version release. I’ve honestly never heard of the Mare before though, as it’s tough to get recognized on the 360 arcade platform, so it’s great to see them releasing on Steam for a much broader audience.
Technically there’s a story, and by the end of episode 3 it does all somewhat tie together, but the narrative isn’t what’s going to hook you. It revolves around Sam, an addict, who ends up in an institution called ‘Reaching Dreams’. On his first night in rehab something terrible happens and he seems like he’s trapped in a nightmare of sorts. Like I said, the plot isn’t going to keep you moving forward and motivated to play, it’s more the creepy atmosphere and puzzle elements. If this is a genre you enjoy though you’ll most likely finish all three episodes quite quickly, even in a single sitting possibly.
The core mechanics are easy to learn, as you simply choose the direction you want to move in by clicking the small arrows at the edges of the screen. Doing so moves or turns you, and if an object is interactable, the cursor turns into a small magnifying glass. You’ll need to memorize the layout of the rooms, as you’ll be backtracking and running through specific hallways and hubs many times to go to the next correct area. While the controls are simple enough I found that you’re always placed facing a predetermined direction when entering a room, not necessary the direction that you came through the door, so it can become disorienting at times and not completely logical.
Every item you find in the game eventually has a use. Solving puzzles often involves using one found item in order to obtain the next item you need to keep moving forward. The issue is that inventory management is a pain. You need to click the inventory icon in the top left to open it, scroll through a handful of items, and then manually try each one hoping it’s the solution that might make sense in your head. If you need to try multiple items, you’ll have to repeat this over and over. The inventory system simply isn’t as streamlined as it could be.
The meat of The Mare’s gameplay is its numerous puzzles. Many are very easy and logical to figure out but others might have you looking up a walkthrough. Some puzzles though were a ‘try every item you have hoping it’s the solution’ rather than something I should have known. Granted, most of the puzzles weren’t terribly difficult to solve, it was just the odd one that really stumped me. Many of the puzzles simply felt that they were thought up to be puzzles, but didn’t really make sense in relation to the tone or story of the game itself.
If you end up wandering aimlessly, there is a built in hint system that will guide you to the room you need to be in next. It won’t outright tell you what puzzle to solve or what to do once in the correct room but is more of a gentle guidance when needed which I appreciated. I often found myself using it simply because I was lost more so than being stumped on a puzzle. Given that The Mare is a horror game inspired be prepared for a few jump scares along the way too. They aren’t terribly frequent, but I didn’t expect them when they came.
The Mare won’t win any awards for graphics, but it’s not really a fair fight when the bulk of the game is static backdrop images either. They aren’t terribly pretty in an artistic sense but they convey the tone the developers were shooting for. As for the sound, the bulk of the ambiance is some low toned piano melodies coupled with the individual sound effects that really help set the eerie tonality and direction. I really like its main theme song though and it definitely reminds me of something straight out of Silent Hill or Resident Evil.
If you were a fan of Myst back in the day and long to have that old school point and click adventure back, then you’ll most likely enjoy The Mare, even if the horror genre isn’t your thing. If you’re looking for the next Slenderman or simply a scary game, look elsewhere, as you won’t find that here. Even with all three episodes it’s quite short with each episode roughly an hour in length. Given its cheap price point, I’d recommend it if you really miss the point and click games from yesteryear. Otherwise there’s really not much else to see here.
***Code provided by the publisher***