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Devotion PC Review

Taiwanese developer Red Candle Games earned a quick cult following with their first commercially-released title Detention, which combined slow-burning atmospheric horror with a tragic historical backdrop during 1960s martial law. Their latest follow-up, Devotion, earned quick acclaim as well as notoriety, as the game accidentally featured placeholder art referencing the infamous Xi Jinping/Winnie the Pooh meme (a series of online images that compare the former to the latter in terms of photographic poses as well as general rotundness), resulting in massive review bombs by Chinese extremists as well as a temporary removal from the Steam store page. The game has since been patched and put back on the store, so one can only hope the controversy will die down.

As for the game itself, Devotion foregoes the 2D aesthetic of its predecessor for a more traditional first person viewpoint commonly associated with modern horror games. Players assume the role of Du Feng Yu, a failed screenwriter and father of a little girl, as he relives the traumatic years that led to a major tragedy in the family. Giving away any further details would be a disservice, as the entire point of the game is structured towards glimpses of Yu’s past and putting the pieces together to find out what led to the fracturing of his family life. This involves revisiting the family apartment during various key points of his past, such as the birth of his child to the increasing rift between his wife and himself.

Established fans of horror games will no doubt immediately think of P.T., the highly influential (despite its removal from the Playstation digital store) first person demo set in the Silent Hill universe. Indeed, Devotion follows a very similar structure that involves going through the same limited backdrops multiple times, unearthing new clues and spooky situations with each loop. However, much like Red Candle Game’s previous title, Devotion is less of a Survival Horror game than it is a deeply personal Walking Simulator that just so happens to have a horror backdrop.

This is why the game’s jump scare moments actually end up hurting the experience rather than enhance it; aside from a couple of decent “gotcha” moments, these bog-standard startling sequences feel cheap compared to the more psychologically-driven backdrops and atmosphere, where players can feel the deterioration of the character’s psyche while his family life crumbles around him. Simply put, Devotion is hampered by the moments where it tries to act like a traditional horror game, including one out-of-nowhere chase sequence that results in an actual Game Over, which will assuredly catch many players off-guard.

Thankfully such distractions are rare, and the game’s haunting themes are represented beautifully thanks to the impressive visuals, which wisely focus on highly detailed rooms and furniture as well as tons of neat little details (including a television that features live action sequences created specifically for the game). As mentioned before, this game is closer to a Walking Simulator than anything else, which also means an intentionally slow walking speed that may irritate more patient players, especially during one sequence with multiple pathways with puzzles that must be solved in a certain order.

As mentioned before, Devotion’s biggest strengths are the deeply personal stories that are vaguely (and intentionally) told through its flashbacks, letters, and haunting imagery. The pain that is conveyed through the character’s struggles can often be hard to sit through, especially with one particular moment that is bound to result in lots of players looking away while taking deep gulps. It’s certainly not for the faint of heart, but there are also moments of visual beauty, especially in the case of one particular sequence. Once again, art style always trumps over graphical tech, though Devotion still has a decent amount of the latter.

Overall, Devotion may prove disappointing for anyone hoping for the next big Indie Horror game, as the moments where the game forgets itself and tries to adhere to traditional horror tend to be the weakest points. Instead, Devotion should be praised for conveying a tragic story that emphasizes the far more effective approach of psychological horror, with long moments of dread and discomfort that tend to have a more lasting impression than the brief startling of a ghost popping around the corner. Hopefully Red Candle Games can continue to deliver such thought-provoking and soul-crushing moments of brilliance while inching further and further away from the more bog-standard horror trends, as the former method of videogame storytelling is definitely the developer’s strongest point.

8 out of 10