Detention Review – Gleeful, Yet Bleak
The horror genre has seen some conventions within the video game industry: psychological, thriller, and suspense. All of these genres are born (more or less) out of the same parent: the survival horror genre. Descendants of this monstrous family include franchises such as Resident Evil, Silent Hill (and its aborted sister Silent Hills), the lesser known Fatal Frame, and Dead Space, to name a few. Why do I bother to point these out? Simple: Most these of involve gadgets or weapons; none of these are played on a flat-level, side-scrolling surface; and all of these are rendered in 3D spaces. Thankfully, Detention, the latest member of this deplorable family employs none of its brethren’s tricks to deliver a richly rewarding experience.
Detention ReviewDetention is a creation by independent developer Red Candle Games. Despite the fact that this is their very first game, they are intuitively aware of what makes a horror – better yet – a good horror videogame tick. Red Candle Games leaves out the fluff and nonsense, and focuses solely on providing a truly woeful experience with Detention. This is a game that’s truly concerned on making the player feel unsettled, while being socially relevant at the same time.
Detention is a game set in the political upheaval of the 1960s, a time when the west was feeling the repercussions of social unrest. In America, the unrest involved civil rights and anti-war protests. Surprisingly enough, the east, or at least Taiwan, was undergoing similar events. This is where the game takes place. Detention is about a high school girl named Ray and her companion Wei who they’re trapped one evening at their school as a typhoon passes through their town.
This is as simple of a summary that I can provide for a unique experience like this one. I don’t want to spoil too much, but I will say that Detention is more of a dramatic venture than a horrific one. Many times while I played it I held my breath in anticipation of a screamer, or a “gotcha-moment” involving deafening noises and bleeding faces, but fortunately they didn’t happen. That’s not to say that Detention has none of these, which it does. However, Red Candle Games has made sure to use them to maximum effect and only when it’s absolutely necessary.
Detention accomplishes this by making excellent use of its side-scrolling, point-and-click gameplay mechanics: the player commands Ray to pick up whatever items might seem useful in order to advance the plot. Several items included in this game are worthy of notice. For instance, Ray might find a crumpled paper ball on the ground or the wall that might look strangely out of place. After she picks it up, the player will notice it might have some worthy clue or cultural note that will help shed light on some of the events transpiring in the game. These hints are then added to Ray’s notebook. Some of the notes have clues on how to deal with certain enemies: “you right-click to hold your breath as [insert enemy name here] approaches,” and so on. I was so interested in reading every bit of information available in Detention, that I actually went ahead and filled out the notebook. Some of the interesting things to look out for include the “lingered,” which are humanoid, spectral beings that the player leaves “offerings” to in order to distract them as Ray makes her escape.
If that didn’t seem relevant enough, Detention’s other half involves its socio-political spectrum. Red Candle Games did plenty of research to portray a realistic vision of what the socio-political climate was like in 1960s Taiwan. Anti-communist messages are hinted at throughout the narrative, as well as censorship of freedom of speech. The truly surprising aspect about it is precisely how relevant it is in today’s increasingly globalized society. Moreover, Detention doesn’t use these themes in a heavy handed manner and they don’t come off as preachy; much less shoehorned. This is something most videogames that decide to implement them fail spectacularly at doing. Additionally, these aren’t the meat and bones of Detention’s narrative, but tasty appetizers that complement the coming-of-age story with meaningful themes of depression and redemption that lie at the core of Ray’s adventure.
While this adventure is grander-than-life and even epic in scope, it is extremely short lived. Detention clocks out at around two and a half to three hours, which isn’t saying much for such a meaningful game. I actually saw some people on YouTube played through Detention in less than two hours. This is essentially a game like Journey: the first time the player experiences Detention, he’ll definitely be impressed. Will he want to come back and play it again, though? That’s the clincher here. Journey was a game that kept players coming back to do the collectibles. Detention, on the other hand, is a game whose appeal is seldom limited to curious risk-takers, arthouse gamers, and horror fans. Most people will not find mass appeal in a videogame like this: some will say it’s too gloomy; others will say it’s too short; but those who truly seek out a different niche will find a short adrenaline rush like no other.
Detention left me wondering about one thing: when will the industry see another burst of creativity that causes shockwaves like Super Mario Bros did in 1985? The gaming industry needs a major rehaul and pronto. Games like Detention and The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild are not released on a weekly basis. There is usually a large gap in-between games like this. Journey was the last unforgettable indie game I played, and that was back in 2012. I played Playdead’s Limbo back in 2010, but I skipped Inside last year (in spite of the positive coverage the game received). My point is, games like Detention don’t come every day, and they are most certainly welcome by my standards. Hopefully Red Candle Games announces their next project soon enough. With the creative potential they’ve showcased here, they could go pretty much anywhere next.