Detention is a gorgeous, tense point-and-click horror game from Taiwanese developer Red Candle Games. Much of its suspense comes from its eerie atmosphere and incredible sound design, but what I found to be infinitely more chilling was its backdrop. It’s set during a time in Taiwan called the “White Terror,” when freedom of thought and speech were brutally suppressed. It only recently ended in 1987 and, at 38 years and 57 days, was at the time considered the longest period of martial law. That stretch of time has now been surpassed by Syria, which has been under martial law since 1963.
For 38 years, the Taiwanese government used the excuse of fighting communism to jail and execute thousands of citizens. An estimated 140,000 people were jailed during this time, and an estimated 3,000 to 4,000 people were executed. It’s in this context that the characters in Detention attempt to survive the night in a school with a dark past. You play as Wei Chung Ting and Fang Ray Shin, two high school students whose fates are haunted by demons both literal and figurative.
The enemies in the game are drawn from Taiwanese and Chinese lore, and there are distinct Buddhist and Taoist influences in the mechanics and design. Hungry ghosts move like broken puppets and fill the hallways with their ghastly wails, and the scariest part is that you can’t do anything to fight back. You can only hold your breath and move slowly, hoping they don’t notice your presence.
The artwork is stunning, with a mixed-media aesthetic and at times looking like frayed old photos. Pops of color and the occasional frenetic effects keep it interesting as you enter different areas and even time periods. It’s been compared to the visual style of games like The Cat Lady and Downfall, though it has its own unique flair as well. Accompanied by a soundtrack that alternates between lo-fi and grungy industrial, and Detention is steeped with unnerving atmosphere.
The puzzles are fairly straightforward and complement the story as it unfolds. Fang Ray Shin’s character is the heart of the story, and the best parts of the game is when you learn more about her and how she’s been affected by the world she inhabits. It’s a dark world full of injustices, but still she presses onward toward the hope of redemption.