Developer: Red Candle
Within all the controversy about Red Candle's 2019 game Devotion being taken down from Steam, several people speaking out about the situation took to Twitter to voice their opinions along with high acclaim for Red Candle's previous game Detention. These Taiwanese developers are known for hard-hitting sociopolitical undertones in their games even before Devotion. My partner and I are often on the hunt for new horror games to play together, and being curious about Devotion we decided to give Detention a try for now. Detention in a horror point-and-click game set in a school in 1960's Taiwan under martial law. Detention uses very simple gameplay elements to make an incredibly haunting atmosphere that tells of a horribly real and tragic story revealed to you bit by bit.
You start Detention playing as Wei, a boy who's just dozed off on his desk during class. His teacher, Ms. Yin, gets called outside by Instructor Bai to discuss a book list. When he wakes up, everyone has left class and he's alone in the school, due to an incoming typhoon. There's immediately a very eerie feeling that something is not right. As you explore the school and find that it's completely empty, you see remnants left behind that hint of has occurred - and what is to come. Finally, you encounter another person when you leave the main building and travel to the school auditorium. There, you meet a scared girl named Ray. The game shifts to having you control Ray instead of Wei and the horror begins.
As Ray, the school campus becomes even more horrifying as you encounter mystical, terrifying monsters that walk the grounds. You actually gain information about these specific monsters and their real-world lore, which I found really interesting. I definitely jumped and screamed more than once in several sudden moments where you see disturbing images or the monsters appear. Detention is a journey backwards through Ray's past to uncover how she ended up in this situation, continuing haunted by symbolic enemies and obstacles.
I spent the first hour or so of Detention very confused about the setting and implications of the time period. I felt that perhaps I should've done research about the history of Taiwan prior to playing. However, further into my playthrough, the game makes the events much clearer and understandable to any player. You absolutely can go in knowing very little about the subject matter and still come to understand, by the end, the cultural repercussions and important details that play into this horror tale. My favorite thing about Detention is how it placed me in a time and place that I would not have otherwise been aware of. It immerses you in religious imagery relevant to Taiwan and shows sociopolitical conflict and fear that was pervasive for many, many people. Detention makes me want to play more indie games made by non-U.S. developers. Indie games serve as such a unique vehicle to tell detailed, personal stories, therefore I imagine that like Detention, indie games from other parts of the world would also be incredibly eye-opening and unique experience compared to the games I'm used to playing.
Although the gameplay in Detention mostly consists of just clicking items and areas, it involves a fair bit of of puzzle solving using inventory items that you find laying around. You actually have to pay attention to Ray's internal dialogue and environmental cues to figure out what items you'll need to use where. You'll also find torn notes that imply the sequence of events and what you'll need to do next. It was sometimes challenging to understand the purpose of certain items, but it's satisfying when you figure out a strange way that they are connected. Often time the game forces you to use these items to perform actions that you definitely won't want to, or that feel cruel and scary.
The music is excellent in placing you in this very specific environment. It creatively combines a traditional east-Asian musical style with chilling, industrial-type sounds. The soundtrack overall makes you feel incredibly alone in an abandoned, cold world. The art style purposely looks faded and grimy, like flipping through the pages of an old, blood-stained book. Most of the locations you travel through have very obvious traces of a horrible history. Detention blurs the line between real places and dark places in the protagonist's mind. Some areas are actually extremely fantastical and dream-like, symbolizing the powerful feelings and memories repressed by the protagonist's mind.
Detention may be pretty intense if you're not into horror games. However, more than horror, it's a deeply tragic story. Although it's about a 4-hour game, it feels like a slow burn as it presents the important aspects of the story in fragmented pieces, building a feeling of suspense and fear of what you might see next. It's an excellent example of a horror game that succeeds in using story-telling, not just scary images, effectively to create a sense of impending doom and even deep sadness. Now I'm even more interested in finding anywhere that I can play its successor, Devotion, but unfortunately it seems it really has been scrubbed off the internet.
Detention is available on PC
Played on: PC Finished: 2/7/2020 Playtime: 4 hrs