School should be a place of safety, somewhere we go to grow as people, but when the borders of a school's safety are torn down, you enter into a real nightmare. Suddenly, this familiar location gives way to the horrors that rest in your own mind, aiming to reveal hidden truth and prove there is no safe place. Detention takes you into these once safe borders and throws you into a world that is unsettling and riddled with mystery, perhaps more than you expected.
Set in 1960s martial law Taiwan, Detention begins with Wei, the central character of the early game, falling asleep in class, and waking to find everyone gone as a typhoon begins to barrel down. As he tries to leave the school, Wei encounters a sleeping senior girl, Ray, who joins Wei as he attempts to leave. However, the bridge out of the school is broken and the pair is forced to turn back. Settling on staying at the school until morning, Wei leaves to find a phone to call for help, and the game shifts control to Ray as she awakens in a nightmarish version of the school, with Wei’s corpse hanging overhead. Ray must set out to uncover what happened and stay alive as the story unfolds around her.
Detention tells an evocative story as it explores its protagonists and their role in the waking nightmare. Ray is a really fascinating character who starts out unassuming and unlucky, but her story evolves revealing more than you expect. This keeps you playing as you want to understand more about the character and her struggles.
It’s especially notable how they explore heavy themes such as violence and underground societies in this narrative. It challenges common ideas such our place in the world and how we are often not in control of our destiny, and should exercise complicity. All this is explored through the eyes of our troubled teenage protagonist, and there is a lot to make you stop and think.
The game plays out on a 2D plane, the player controlling Ray as she explores the school and its surrounding grounds. You explore to find items that will help you progress. It plays out more like a point and click adventure, with simple puzzles completed by collecting various items and following key prompts. Take, for example, using paint thinner to clear a protective seal of paint, or wire cutters to cut wire and open up a gate.
The early game puzzles are exceptionally simple and solved with little thought. In some moments the game spells out the solution with a piece of paper that essentially tells you what you need. You stumble across key items naturally and you will rarely find yourself lacking direction as the game does a good job of not allowing you forward without properly exploring the rooms you have available.
Later in the game is where a little more brain work is required, as the simple object puzzles transform into slightly more mentally taxing challenges. Many of the late game puzzles do away with objects and require you to use your mind to overcome the objective, flipping your perspective or overcoming a daunting obstacle. Take for instance a piano puzzle which requires you to play very specific notes which, for those who are not musically inclined, is a tricky challenge. Other puzzles might have you stumped as you figure out their meaning, and will have you backtracking just to figure out what you are missing. The later puzzles are really engaging, and you feel satisfied overcoming their perplexing challenges, adding a nice variety to the simple solutions from the early game.
Between rooms, horrifying creatures known as the “Lingered” stalk the halls, impeding your progress. These creatures aren’t that hard to pass as you make use of your ability to hold your breath and bypass them. They aren’t exactly huge threats as even if they spot you it is easy to flee them. Lingered are more nuisances than anything fearful, despite their look. In fact, running out of breath was more terrifying than these creatures.
The real horror from Detention stems from its visuals and sound design. The game never relies on cheap jump scares to send a shiver down your spine. Its dark visuals make rooms feel eerie and unsettling, and the game plays tricks with the light to catch you off guard. At no point is the game properly scary but these rare moments of visual trickery or confronting events do a lot to put you on edge and unsettle you.
It helps that the sound design is built around this idea of making you feel unsettled. There is no typical score to listen to. All you have is the careful patter of ambient noise that accompanies your journey: quiet moans echoing down a hall, the shuffling of feet, crying from an unknown location, and scratches on a chalkboard, among a variety of other things. Red Candle Games doesn't build a typical horror game with Detention that is intended to scare. Instead, they master making you feel uncomfortable through careful creation and placement of sound and visuals.
Detention thrives in the power of its driven narrative that is able to explore deep and troubling ideas within the confines of the game. You are driven to explore the truth behind Ray and face the horrors of an ever twisting setting. While the puzzle design is initially simple, Detention improves with some brain teasers down the line giving you time to get invested. Detention is a really interesting survival horror game that more people should play even if only to explore its tense story and harsh realities.
Simon reviewed the Switch version of Detention that he purchased himself.