Detention PS4 Review
These days, there seem to be two presiding types of horror in both games and movies: the cheap jump-scare kind, where a bog-standard plot about a curse and/or ghost that likes to spook its easily startled cast by tapping them on the shoulder and running off, or the slow burn atmospheric horror that plays upon the protagonist’s existential dread that leaves them in a metaphorical hell of their own hubris…before falling into actual hell.
The latter horror story tends to stick with its core audience for much longer, and overall receives more commercial praise: one need only look at recent success stories like Hereditary and The VVitch, which tear at the heartstrings before tearing said heart clean from the chests of traumatized audiences. In hindsight, this was also the kind of horror aesthetic that made up the Silent Hill series (or rather, the original trilogy), which defined psychological horror the same way Resident Evil paved the way for Survival Horror.
Detention, an original game created by Taiwanese studio Red Candle Games, falls squarely into the aforementioned existential horror, taking place during a historical period that was undoubtedly traumatizing for many people, the White Terror. For 38 years, Taiwan was under a period of martial law that would punish anyone who was suspected of consorting with communism. Naturally, the paranoia of that period meant that intellectuals and other people who offered alternative thoughts were unfairly (and harshly) persecuted.
This sets the tone for Detention, which takes place in the 1960s, where the students in Greenwood High obediently go by their daily regimen, heads down in obedience and fear. While falling asleep in class, Wei Chung Ting finds himself alone in the school, his surroundings taking a darker and more disturbing appearance, including exits blocked by barbed wire, rivers flowing with blood…all the good stuff. Soon, Wei finds another student named Ray who is every bit as clueless as he is on how they ended up in this predicament. With puzzles to solve and paranormal entities to evade, the two students must find a way out of their predicament…and hopefully, the horrors plaguing their inner thoughts.
Without giving too much away, Detention follows a similar premise to Silent Hill in the way that the surroundings and spooks are framed around the troubled minds of its characters. All the psychedelic imagery has a coherent purpose to it, particularly in the subtext that shows just the kind of horrors Wei and Ray must face in the regular world during martial law. While there are actual monsters that require stealth and silence to avoid, these encounters are rare and make up very little of the game. Anyone looking to leap in terror every few minutes may be disappointed, although there is no shortage of disturbing imagery that will leave players perpetually on edge.
The game follows a strict 2D plane, where characters move left or right while interacting with the various locked doors and observable objects along the way. There is also a dedicated inventory system, leading to the classic Survival Horror mechanic of finding out what thing goes into the other thing in order to proceed. Many of the puzzles can be solved without much brain power, minus a couple of slightly trickier trials in the end, but all of them fit in nicely with the demented world, which is built around a twisted look of 60’s Taiwan as well as culturally unique monsters and mythology. This is especially carried well by the haunting 2D effects, which include painterly backgrounds and detailed animations of wind, rain, and smoke. The only minor downside are the stiff animations of the characters themselves, which are especially noticeable considering how much running they’ll be doing.
Make no mistake, Detention errs much closer to games like Dear Esther and Gone Home, where wandering dark corridors (as well as the metaphorical dark corridors of the characters’ psyche) makes up the majority of the gameplay, which also happens to be on the brief side. The story, however, is wonderfully heartbreaking in the way it conveys feelings of loneliness, persecution and many other themes that were undoubtedly felt during that era. The only downside is the translation, which suffers from a few spelling errors and other bits of spotty localization. The PS4 version suffers from a bit of screen tearing as well, which sullies the otherwise spectacular (and spooky) visuals.
Grammar and graphical issues aside, Detention is still a game that is easily digestible, but will still leave a lingering aftertaste once its tragic tale reaches its course. The bar for storytelling in videogames continues to be set higher with every new title, be it Indie or Triple A, and the horror genre continues to innovate in new and exciting ways.