Steam Next Fest 2022: Decarnation serves up literal and metaphorical body horror
Updated: Feb 7
The world of fine arts, in all its varied forms, is one ripe for dissection and critique in media — and horror is just the genre for the job. The high-pressure, high-stakes, pour your heart into your art mentality, and larger-than-life personalities of the art world, make for a perfect setup for a few nameless horrors to enter the scene and ratchet up the anxiety a few notches.
And so comes a game like Decarnation. This 2D horror adventure's Steam Next Fest demo recalls horror movies like Black Swan and classic horror games like Ib to produce a cinematic experience. And we can't wait to see more of it.
Decarnation's short but effective 30 to 40 minute demo brings you into the world of the famed French cabaret dancer, Gloria. It opens with a glimpse at her latest project, posing for a misogynistic sculptor as the centerpiece in his latest exhibit. Months later, Gloria and her partner Joy go to see the exhibit with a bundle of nerves... and the horror begins.
A creep fondling her statue, an argument with her partner, a workplace looking to phase her out. All these external issues crop up alongside internal self-doubt, leaving room for the real demons to enter the scene. It's psychological horror through and through.
Just like many other horror projects, dreams are where the darkness starts to seep in. In her dream state, Gloria wanders through recreations of her traumatic experiences, with the mundane turned horrifying and the already traumatizing distorted into misshapen beasts.
It's all so effective and works to support the greater story being told. Decarnation highlights the exploitation of women's bodies, particularly in the art world. About how women are made to feel worthless as they age. About the pervasive misogyny in the art scene and our broader society. About the anxieties artists face about whether their work means something or is worth being shared.
Decarnation's story is delivered very cinematically too, with a pace reminiscent of a great film or even an episode of a new prestige drama. Fun transitions between scenes and sequences scored by some great French tracks help to anchor you in the story being told here. And a scintillating cliffhanger at the end of the demo, just like the end of a great episode of TV, compels you to return to Gloria's world when the game releases in early 2023.
Decarnation feels like the evolved and elevated form of RPG Maker horror classics of old — the natural next step of a genre I loved growing up. Most of the game is spent walking around and just examining the scene around you, but when it does bring in something a bit more involved, you never know what to expect.
A lot of the action takes place through a series of contextual minigames. Showering and getting ready in the morning means flicking the stick up to turn the shower on and then back down to turn it off. Dancing at the cabaret manifests as a rhythm game. And twisting and turning in bed at night has you nudging the stick around as you let intrusive thoughts win.
The demo's horrifying dream sequence has Gloria shuffling through a demented version of the art gallery where her work is being shown, and with a button press, she lets out a primal scream to work through her building frustration, but also pushes back the flesh monsters that are terrorizing her. It's all simple while serving this cinematic narrative adventure, keeping the focus on the frights waiting around the corner and on this painfully realistic story of a woman's experiences in modern society. I hope the variety of minigames is there to keep us immersed throughout a decently lengthy story, and that some of the lengthier gameplay sequences, like the museum, are a bit more involved in the full release.
Decarnation soars with its visual style as well, standing somewhere in between Junji Ito with its mutilated but distinctly human monsters and David Lynch with its dreamy landscapes and themes of being stuck in between states of consciousness. The style of pixel art again feels reminiscent of some RPG Maker classics with some familiar pixel-work and horrifyingly smooth animations as skin sloughs off of monsters and pools on the ground.
The team at Atelier QDB perfectly makes use of the darkness surrounding scenes. The endless dark void around each scene helps to immerse you with the character's mental state; the world disappears around her when she feels the most alone. It helps to sell the claustrophobia of a space when you go from room to room and find nothing around you. And it helps transitions as Gloria shifts between moments in reality and in her dreams.
It all contributes to the overall cinematic aesthetic, elevating the experience into something more like a 2D horror game from Quantic Dream than some of those classic RPG Maker experiences it brings to mind.
All in all, Decarnation is a game to keep an eye on. This brilliant teaser gives you enough of the story setup, previews things yet to come with a brilliant ending montage of scenes you'll encounter in the full game, and gives you a perfect taster of the types of psychological horror gameplay that will come with the full release.
Decarnation is being developed by Atelier QDB and published by Shiro Unlimited and is set for release in early 2023. If you want to check it out, you've got a couple of days to try its demo before Steam Next Fest ends on Oct. 10. Otherwise, wishlist the game on Steam and follow the devs on social media to keep up with the game!