Detention is set in 1960s Taiwan during a period known as the White Terror during which the entire country was under martial law. 140,000 Taiwanese were imprisoned and over 3,000 were executed because they opposed, or were perceived to oppose, the government. On the surface it may seem hard to relate to this, but you only have to look at the news to see that many of the themes in the game are relevant today.
The politics of the game are layered in and around a story of ghosts and deities as experienced through the eyes of two school students, Wei and Ray, who wake up in a cursed version of Greenwood High School. You have direct control over them, but the game is essentially a point and click adventure, requiring you to locate objects and solve simple puzzles whilst dodging the spirits who are the only real danger in the game. These can be avoided by holding your breath or looking the other way when they slowly creep past, so while they are unsettling, they rarely pose any threat.
As the story unravels, so does your perception of reality with the school decaying and degrading much like the famous Silent Hill. Flashbacks and dream sequences tell the story of Ray’s childhood, her father, and the surprising way she coped with his actions. Though there are a couple of jump scares, most of the horror comes in the quieter moments when you learn of how the regime treats it’s citizens.
The sound design is excellent with subtle creaks and groans instilling a sense of dread, with some wonderfully haunting music composed by musician Weifan Chang which mashes up electronic burbles and squeaks with traditional Asian instruments. The graphics are a rather haphazard mix of hand drawn characters, animated pictures of real life objects such as trees, and some parallax scrolling to give the game some depth. Despite the mish-mash of styles it works really well and reminded me of foreign animated cartoons that ITV used to show late at night before the channel shut down for the night.
The game has been localised to English almost perfectly, and although you learn about the White Terror it never felt the game was shoving historical facts down your throat like the Assassin’s Creed games do. You learn about the oppressive regime through individual character stories and the consequences of their actions, and suffice to say it to say, there are not many happy endings. It’s not a particularly long game – three to four hours at most – but you don’t want to rush the story. As it creeps toward the conclusion it becomes apparent exactly what has happened and the last few scenes pack an emotional punch akin to that final, slow walk in Ubisoft’s Valiant Hearts.
The slowly moving spirits that linger in the school halls echo the creeping dread you will feel when playing the game. There’s nothing as obviously horrific as the twisted creatures found in The Evil Within, the monsters in Detention are all-too-real humans. Despite being simplistically animated and two dimensional the characterisation of Ray is superb, reminding me a little of the Studio Ghibli film Grave of the Fireflies, while the characters who are barely glimpsed such as Instructor Bai, are so well described just the mention of his name sets you on edge.
If I have one criticism, and I will freely admit this is very personal opinion, it’s that some of the text regarding spirituality felt a little like reading a motivational poster. I’m not a religious person and the game does include Buddhist and Taoist themes that I couldn’t really relate to, but you may find a deeper meaning to the words on screen. Other than that, the save points are a little sparsely spread out and the scrolling does result in a very occasion screen tear, but these are very minor problems.
After spending many hours in the explosive world of Destiny 2, Detention’s simple but horrific tale has reminded me just how affecting video games can be. A game based on the oppressive regime of 1960’s Taiwain may not be for everyone, but if you fancy a break from head shots and kill streaks then this debut title from Red Candle games comes highly recommended.
Version tested: PlayStation 4