Game Review | Detention
So, you got Detention...
Game summary: Greenwood high school, located in a remote mountainous area, two students found themselves trapped and vulnerable. The place they once knew has changed in unsettling ways, haunted by evil creatures. (Steam)
I'm not usually one for horror games, but Detention is certainly a title that could convince me otherwise, although I'm not so sure many other horror titles will have so unique a story and atmosphere that can match this. Set in 1960s Taiwan under martial law, this definitely isn't a typical video game premise.
Minor spoiler to start with, as you begin the game controlling a young male student named Wei, before taking control of a female student named Ray, who you control for the rest of the game - depending on which ending you get, that is. It's pretty simple to get either ending, but the game does require you to pay attention and understand both what is happening and what has already happened to Ray in order to get the 'true' ending.
As Ray, you explore the distorted, ruined and often surreal school grounds, dodging undead spirits for the first two of Detention's four 'chapters'. And yes, dodging monsters while collecting items to unlock progress through the various buildings is definitely very 'video gamey', but also the scariest, with the music constantly ratcheting up the tension.
And that's no joke, even exploring empty classrooms is an anxiety-inducing experience as the music just builds and builds as if something horrible is about to happen at any second. Even the noises the spirits - the Lingered - make are unsettling and there are enough little bursts of noise peppered throughout the story to constantly keep you wondering when the next jump will occur.
The last two chapters are still definitely creepy, but are more puzzle-based and explore the story and characters of the setting in more depth rather than continuing to force you to escape monsters or cause jump scares. The second half of Detention is also my favourite, thanks to how the game slowly doles out information so you can piece together what happened.
I'm not going to go any further into the story to avoid spoilers, so I'll only say this: while the setting and dangers are certainly supernatural, how Ray came to find herself in this situation is due to a very human and very sad cause. This is not a happy game in the slightest, and almost everyone shown loses something by the end of it.
Regarding the game's looks, it's fairly monochromatic, using brighter/stronger colours sparingly and to startlingly good effect. Detention is a 2D game though, so don't go in expecting anything amazing, but everything works, including the almost puppet-like movement of Ray and the other characters as they move about the various locations.
Once you find out why Ray is where she is, the looks feel even more appropriate and the lack of colour begins to make a lot of sense. Tying the visual style into the narrative is pretty cool and works well, and also helps to contribute to the atmosphere, lending a level of bleakness to events. Obviously, it also ties into the fact that the story is set in the Sixties and black-and-white media would be commonplace at the time.
I have one slight criticism of the controls with Detention being entirely mouse-driven. This isn't a huge flaw, but there were more than a few occasions I did tap the keyboard to inch along a little before remembering to click instead. This did lead to opening doors and entering/exiting areas by accident, but hardly anything serious.
In fact, the only criticism I really have for this game is that its atmosphere is so incredibly well done that the death/checkpoint system is a bit of a disappointment - not a major issue, just a little frustrating. And just to point out how minor an issue it was, I only died twice and both times it was due to me not paying attention - the game can hardly be criticised for my own shortcomings.
The first death was fine, as it occurred seconds after a checkpoint in the story and I could pick up exactly where I left off. The second time, I had to redo about ten minutes of gameplay to get back where I was and spoiled the atmosphere of the game as a result. My advice? Save after anything you feel is a key moment or if it's been more than about five minutes - might as well play on the safe side.
The reason having to redo such a small section of Detention was so frustrating for me is that part of the tense atmosphere is having absolutely no idea what was coming next and that unknown just made the already creepy setting even worse. Having to do the same moments a second time ripped that atmosphere away and it did take a while for to be fully immersed in Ray's story again.
It's also worth noting that this is a pretty short game, only lasting a few hours. This isn't a criticism as the game is perfectly-paced, feeling neither rushed nor out-staying its welcome. Some of the means of progression might stump you for a bit (I did have to google solutions a couple of times), but most of the puzzle elements are fairly logical if you're paying enough attention.
And Detention is a game that definitely rewards attention, in addition to deserving it. It's a brilliant little game that I wasn't expecting anything amazing from and came away absolutely loving it. The few minor issues are just enough to stop me from giving it a 10/10, but this is still a game that can be fully recommended and perfect for some Halloween horror.
Detention is a fantastic horror game of two halves, with a brilliant visual style and truly incredible sound design making for a unique and unforgettable experience. The story is great, the atmosphere equally so and the only downside is having that spell broken if you die - although even that death will probably be your own fault and not the game's.