This kind of game is the reason I love indies. A few months ago, I didn’t have it on my radar. And now I can’t get Decarnation out of my head. The narrative is alluring and horrifying in equal measures as it uses the grotesque trappings of nightmares to play out issues that hit disturbingly close to home. So close, that I caution anyone looking to start it up to check the content warnings — which the game helpfully provides before setting you on its journey of fear and courage.
A psychological thriller with Lovecraftian influence, the scares here are not cheap. The most terrifying moments for me revolve around all-too-familiar situations and the shame, fear, and diminution that follows. The story stars Gloria as she lives through the worst chapter of her life. The events themselves, however, are not truly the focus but rather a catalyst for confronting her inner — and sometimes very real — demons. they also allow for some heavy commentary on exploitation, society’s view of women, and dangerous entitlement.
There are six acts in total, all of which are roughly an hour long. By the time I reached chapter two, my notes simply read “F—!” before trailing off. At that point, I knew I had to see this journey to the end and played for almost five hours straight.
The moment-to-moment gameplay was a combination unfolding dialogue, rhythm game mechanics, and thoughtful puzzles. And I use the word thoughtful because the challenges really did often reward me for paying attention.
One of my favorite puzzles drew on some really innocuous details in the hallway of Gloria’s Paris apartment, which I had just happened to stop to admire in the beginning of the game. It was a great way for the developers to give any players paying attention a pat on the back. Methods for solving puzzles can vary wildly and each tested my wits without being busy work.
The rhythm games could be a little finicky at times but they were as creative as their puzzle counterparts. I was first introduced to the system by controlling Gloria — a life-long dancer — on the stage where she feels the most alive, which provided a low-stakes learning space. Later, these controls popped up in boss battles and major story moments which were far more stressful arenas as they felt so fittingly urgent.
The game’s ending is as strong as its beginning. Rightfully for so haunting a game, the conclusion leaves me pensive but better for the experience. I didn’t expect Decarnation to launch itself into my favorite games of the year and might easily have overlooked it. Don’t make that mistake.