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Red Herring Labs Morningstar: Descent to Deadrock
Shining Gate Software Decay: The Mare
This weekend I took a break from big-budget, explosion fare to dig through the backlog of indie games we've accumulated since the start of the year. I wanted something small and easily consumable, and two titles stood out—Morningstar: Descent to Deadrock and Decay: The Mare.
The two have a lot in common. They're both point-and-click adventures, and they both clock in around two hours long. In other words, they're both the types of games that are hard to fit into our standard reviews format, so they get the honor of ending up bundled here together.
If you're looking for epic Telltale-caliber adventure games, feel free to move along. If you're just looking for another of "that style of game" after maybe playing the excellent Book of Unwritten Tales 2 last week? There might be something here for you.
Morningstar: Descent to Deadrock review
Much to my surprise, Morningstar: Descent to Deadrock has nothing to do with peddling vegetarian meat substitutes to people who've forgotten why life is worth living (namely, steak). Instead, it's a tight, two hour science fiction-themed point-and-click.
If you're looking for something new in the point-and-click genre, you're not going to find it in Morningstar. For that matter, if you're looking for something new in the science fiction genre you won't find it here either.
Instead, Morningstar is the game equivalent of the movie you scroll past on Netflix two dozen times and then one night take a chance on. "Yeah, I will watch Europa Report," you say to yourself. And it's perfectly decent! A bit trope-heavy, a bit plot-thin, and with some iffy effects, but still something that you finish and go "Yeah, I had a fine time." Sometimes that's all you really need.
You're part of the crew of the aforementioned Morningstar, a space ship that's had the ill luck to crash on Deadrock, a planet apparently so horrible that "even the UN says not to go there" or something along those lines. One member of your crew is dead. Another, the captain, is pinned to the cockpit by a massive metal rod protruding from his chest. It's a disaster, and you're the only one that can fix it.
"Fixing it" consists of your typical item-based point-and-click. You'll find items, combine those items with other items, and slowly but surely work your way through the myriad issues preventing you from escaping Deadrock.
What I love about Morningstar is how innately logical and easy everything is. There's only one puzzle I can think of where I got stumped. Otherwise, the game practically hands out its answers—"This tent pole looks like it would make a good antenna" being an example. I could see this game serving as an introduction of sorts to the point-and-click genre.
But even for veterans, it's a decent little game if like me you're hunting for something short and sweet. That's not always what I'm looking for—I love digging into a seventy hour RPG on occasion—but sometimes it's nice to sit down, start a game, and then watch the credits roll two hours later.
Save for two extensive CG cutscenes (at the beginning and end), the game is pretty light on flashy effects. Most of the screens are entirely static, which gives the game a very traditional 90s feel. As for the voice-acting...well, for people who've just been through a crash landing, lost a crew member, and are themselves on the verge of death, it's actually funny how calm these guys sound. We're talking B-tier voice acting at best.
The game could also use a key to highlight hot spots, though items do highlight as you move the cursor around. Still, I did get stuck at one point because I'd missed what was in retrospect a fairly obvious area, but I'd failed to mouse over it and thus spent about ten minutes wandering back and forth.
It's a little quibble though. I mean, the game still only took two hours. It's not like we're discussing Sierra-level pixel-hunting here.
Bottom line: There's nothing groundbreaking here, but Morningstar's a solid little point-and-click for fans of the genre: Very polished, easy on the eyes, and the puzzles are as logical as you'll ever find in the adventure genre.
Decay: The Mare review
Like Morningstar, this game has an exceptionally misleading title for some reason. The Steam forums are full of people cracking jokes about female horses, and I don't blame them—I've now completed the entire game and have no idea why "The Mare" is part of the title.
Regardless, Decay: The Mare is the follow-up to the Xbox's Decay series from a few years back. Like those games, Decay: The Mare is a horror-themed point-and-click done episodically, although this PC collection brings all three pieces together into one package.
I'd love to see what developer Shining Gate Software could do with an actual budget sometime. Decay: The Mare is most frustrating because it establishes a fantastic (albeit clichéd) atmosphere, and then mostly squanders it on cheap jump scares and a paper-thin plot.
If anything, the first episode is strongest because you know it's meant to set up the rest. You can forgive so much—the thin plot, the lack of context, the quirky horror moments that don't quite work—because it feels like the game is going somewhere.
The problem is when the credits roll two hours later, you look back and realize everything about the game is forgettable. The "horror" never quite gels into anything genuinely scary, the few mysteries that get answered are tepid, and the quality of the puzzles slowly devolves into the game shuffling you from room to boring room.
It's not helped by the production value. The game was clearly intended for phones and tablets, as far as I can tell. The textures and objects are rather low-resolution, and worse is a terrible grain and depth-of-field filter thrown over the top. Everything looks smudged and blurry, which is a huge pain in the ass when you're trying to figure out which objects in a scene are interactive.
Moving around is also clumsy. The game doesn't make good use of mouse/keyboard, instead featuring navigation straight out of an old HyperCard stack (i.e. Myst). Moving forward involves clicking on specific points in the scene, but you can also turn side-to-side or turn around completely through the use of arrows on the side of the screen. Or you can sort-of use the arrow keys to turn around, but moving forward still requires you to click which makes that method pretty pointless.
Location-based movement can actually be really useful for people who don't play a lot of first-person games, but in order for it to work you need it to be clear where the player is looking at all times. Decay: The Mare's environments are easy to get lost in, which can make moving around more of a chore than initially expected. The game also doesn't bother to orient you correctly when leaving rooms sometimes, meaning you might leave a room and find yourself outside staring at the door to go back in. This makes it even more difficult to figure out where you're going.
Oh, and there's a damn maze in the middle of the game. Again, I beg of you game developers: Stop putting mazes in your games. They're never appreciated! Especially when they're as tedious as the one in Decay: The Mare.
It's a shame because, as I said, I think Shining Gate could do something fantastic with an actual budget. The studio has the same sort of knack for atmosphere that I credit Frictional (Amnesia series) and Red Barrels (Outlast) with—the difference being that Frictional and Red Barrels are making much more extensive and impressive games.
Bottom line: If you're desperate for a short, atmospheric horror game—after all, we don't get a ton of those—you could consider checking Decay: The Mare out. I don't think you'll be satisfied though. There's not much to shock you here either in terms of scares or the game itself.
Red Herring Labs Morningstar: Descent to Deadrock
Shining Gate Software Decay: The Mare
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