Red Candle Games follows up its modern classic horror game Detention with another great entry into the genre. Find out why we have an early Horror Game of the Year contender in our Devotion review.
Scene 4: Child’s room, night, interior
[Close-up]: Candles illuminate the bed and the herbal tea remedy.
Child (weakly): Father, when will we go down into the big city?
Husband: We cannot do so under these troubling circumstances. Son, when your illness has passed, Mother and I will take you anywhere you’d like.
Child: Father, the needles are painful. This treatment is unbearable!
The husband pulls the acupunctural needles out of his child.
Husband: No more pain, no more pain! Father won’t have you suffer any longer!
The child, tired from crying, drifts into sleep.
Wife: How is this going to work? It’s been such a long time, my heart clenches.
Husband: Set your mind at ease, I’ve another way.
Red Candle Games made a name for itself with Detention, a side-scrolling horror game that managed to remain intriguing due to the facets of Taiwanese culture ingrained in the story wrapped within an unsettling art-style. With Red Candle Games’ newest title, they have taken what made their first game an excellent piece of psychological horror and transitioned their talents to a first-person perspective eloquently.
Devotion centers around a Taiwanese father, a screenwriter named Du Feng Yu. Together with his wife Li Fang, a prominent actor, they have a daughter named Mei Shin who is subjugated to an illness. Playing as Du Feng Yu, players traverse a small yet densely detailed house over numerous years that explores the family’s various struggles. There was a care in making sure that every part of the house felt lived in. As newspapers used as tablecloths are fully detailed, books are messily strewn about, and there are even notated calendars signifying important events. Ultimately, the set-dressing is thoughtfully put-together and compliments the game’s story thoroughly.
Yet, the genius of Devotion is found within this non-linear form of storytelling. As the house shows increasing development through the various time jumps that the player subjects themselves to within the game. For example, in one of the earlier years that you explore the house, Du Feng and Li Fang are moving into the house. Organizing their furniture, portraits, and trophies onto empty walls and bookshelves. The puzzle design is fascinating in this regard, as the gameplay is contextual with the story rather than an attempt to pad out the game’s length. At some points, you’re hanging photos of Li Fang’s various photoshoots on walls, or sometimes you’re assembling the x-ray of Mei Shin like a jigsaw.
In terms of the quality of horror, the game has the typical ghosts and various scary monsters you expect from a horror title. However, there are also life-size woodblock figures adorning the house in certain pass-throughs, recreating various events that the family has been through. The terror comes from how the inanimate objects follow the logic that should your back be turned on them they will be in different places than they were before (much like the Weeping Angels in Doctor Who), and sometimes they’re looking directly at you or adorning weapons. This is also utilized to portray various holidays and life events with the dolls recreating these moments with the turn of a head. This factor is one of many in the game that creates a uniquely unsettling experience attributing to the game’s overall effort to be horrifically moody.
Various other environments do get introduced such as a hospital but are all still under the guise of the house. Inside the house as well, is a constant utilization of Taiwanese entertainment programs. As you watch various broadcasts, such as singing competitions, the window is open to Taiwanese culture in the 80s and states intriguing things on this specific era’s commercialism and how it was used by various cults. The broadcasts are replications of the style that was found during the time, and the effects that are used to resemble a CRT television with FMV cutscenes makes for a riveting experience.
Another tool of storytelling that’s used is a radio that plays various broadcasts, as you hear on various talk shows characters calling in for advice. As well, tabloid articles are utilized as a device for exposition that lets the player uncover the mysteries of the family at their own meticulous pace, with just enough information being withheld in a 3-hour playthrough to keep someone engaged in completing the experience in one sitting.
The sound design in Devotion is also excellent, as ambient noises unique to each year and contribute to the overall atmosphere. It’s highly suggestible that this game is played with headphones, as the 3D audio work is meticulously designed. Another factor of the game’s production that is unique to each year is with the distinct lighting variations of the environment. Utilizing a variety of warm colors to set a specific tone for each of the various encounters.
Collectibles in the game are also purposeful. Across photographs, various childhood scribbles, and even television scripts that detail and flesh out the Shin family. The plays into the factor that the story is the strongest part of the game, and that the heart comes from the familial dynamic. Each of the three central characters gets the progression and details that they deserve, going through various arcs via the numerous details that you learn over the years. With Devotion, it’s evident that you can learn a lot about a person just from reading a to-do list for shopping, an essay a child writes for school, or the ramblings of a dissatisfied wife.
Devotion is a revelatory horror game, one that manages to remain unsettling and horrific through the mood and tone that’s imparted from the game’s design and storytelling. This is refreshing since rather than relying on unearned jump scares and unending chase-sequences, the thematic elements of the game bring the experience to life. Making this arguably the first great new horror title of 2019, and a must-play for any enthusiast of the genre.
Devotion review code for PC was purchased by the reviewer
Devotion is currently unavailable on PC. More details here.