I don’t play as many horror games as I’d like to. I’m a fan of the genre: Silent Hill 2 is my favourite game of all time, REmake is in my top five, I like Outlast and Amnesia, and I’m a fan of unconventional horror games, or horror-themed parts of games, like the opening of Far Cry 5, or the entirety of Spec Ops: The Line when viewed in hindsight, as well as the Souls games, Bloodborne and Darkest Dungeon. I’m fond of horror, basically, and I’ve started down a path to fix my deficit of pure horror titles over the Christmas period with two games: White Day: A Labyrinth Named School, which I haven’t finished yet, and one I want to briefly talk about here called Detention, released in 2017. For readers in England the two games are currently heavily reduced in the January PSN sale: Detention is currently £3.29 if I remember right, certainly £3-something, which it’s definitely worth. Anyway, let’s get into it. Please note that while I won’t be going into deep spoiler territory I will be giving away certain details that you won’t be aware of if you go in blind, so bare that in mind.
Detention is set in 60’s Taiwan under the Historical “White Terror” Martial Law in which anyone having even the slightest perceived, real-or-imagined whiff of communism about them is hauled away and executed. You briefly play as Wei, a student who wakes up to find his school abandoned in the wake of a typhoon warning, and after finding that the bridge leading out is broken and the river has turned red, elects to hold up in the school with another student named Ray. Turns out Ray is the real protagonist, the school has taken on an Eldritch, impossible space form and is now full of ghosts, and Ray did something bad that she refuses to remember. What struck me only once I was actually playing the game and not watching it be played is how reminiscent of Silent Hill it is. The grimy, dilapidated environments, the soundtrack consisting of industrial noises and ambient music, the surreal, disconcerting horror; it’s all very Silent Hill and it drew me in immediately. The ghosts themselves make utterly horrible noises and the puzzles have that same SH style where there’s a touch of the mundane combined with the surreal: rolling three dice that then turn into teeth, using a bowl of blood to reveal scratches on a desk, a harrowing blink-and-you’ll miss it silent jump scare when retrieving that blood; it’s all unsettling, surreal horror that has too much logic to be a dream and not enough “normal” logic to be the real world. The aforementioned jump scares are used sparingly, and rely on the build up dread and tension you could cut with a knife. “The Hill” of this article’s title refers to Silent Hill, and how every game since Origins, with their budgets, teams and name recognition couldn’t scare me, couldn’t instil a sense of dread and unease like a three hour, monochromatic 2-d game made by first time developers. Without wishing to spoil, even its later stages with focus placed on Ray’s traumatic past, what the bad thing she did was and the circumstances in which she ended up in this situation are reminiscent of Silent Hill, and are also handled far better than all the Western ones. Admittedly these sections aren’t as scary as the first half of the game but it earns that more story-driven pace after ramping up the horror and tension so effectively, plot fragments drip fed as you navigate the school. It’s grim, it’s unsettling and it’s genuinely scary, and games like this take some of the sting out of losing P.T. If we can’t have more Silent Hill games, I’ll settle for more games being built on that hill. Now go play Detention while it’s still the cost of a pint. You won’t regret it. It’s scary, its plot is interesting and unique, and the way it’s presented mixes seamlessly with the horror and is told in a manner that’s slightly abstract without being annoying. It’s the best horror game I’ve played since Resident Evil 7, and far scarier. Give it a go, so I can have more games like this.
By James Lambert