"As if they were tag-team wrestlers, the scares tag out and in come the exposition and commentary."
Indie games are known for innumerable qualities, including horror and artistic expression. Detention accomplishes both feats, but not to the extent it needs to in order to establish itself as a high-quality adventure title. With odd pacing, Detention can't seem to decide what it wants to be throughout this three-hour excursion to a high school in Taiwan.
Detention starts off with eerie imagery and shocking jump scares as our protagonists find themselves in a deserted, run-down high school they had just attended together yesterday. What follows is an exercise in linearity as the protagonists walk up floors and down hallways in search of puzzles, the items to fit snugly in those puzzles, and the occasional long-tongued, Asian-style ghost. Their search for answers takes them through various locations, only to find yet more ghosts and puzzles.
However, the simple scares and creepy atmosphere screech to a halt about halfway through the adventure, when Detention decides to provide some answers. As if they were tag-team wrestlers, the scares tag out and in come the exposition and commentary. Perhaps the realities uncovered are meant to serve as a different kind of horror, but you'll have to experience Detention to find out what those horrors are. You know, if you want. Which you may not want to.
The gameplay couldn't be less inspired, and the puzzles are far too bland and obvious. Most of the "experience" revolves around opening up every door one comes across, only to either find an item for a puzzle or a new puzzle. Backtrack to the previous puzzle this new item almost definitely goes to, and move on to the next door. Rinse and repeat. Some locations can be rather labyrinthine, which makes backtracking arduous. Few choices are ever made, and decisions have vague consequences in terms of how the story unfolds.
Fortunately, with all of the backtracking, at least the visuals are inviting and inspire the imagination. For those unfamiliar with Eastern cultures, the architecture, decorations, and layout can be educational. I, myself, have been to Asia, and while I haven't been to Taiwan, I felt nostalgia creep up as I remembered burning paper money in response to a loved one's passing or the simple elevation classrooms have at the front of the room. Although the environments are enjoyable, the people animate strangely and lack a layer of detail found in their surroundings. Again, one could argue this is intentional given how the story unfolds, but I found it jarring and disappointing as I paced around at an awkward gait.
The music leaves little to the imagination, as it rarely evokes any character. Some singing on the radio is pleasant, but most of the sound exists to passively push the player forward between moments of slowly walking back and forth between puzzles. In terms of control, a run button would have been appreciated, but other than that, Detention flows as smoothly as one would expect.
Detention has something important to say, but using a game as a medium seems inappropriate in this instance. While the subject matter is definitely worth discussing and I'd personally love to see more of this in games moving forward, the way in which it's been executed here left me groaning by the end of the three hours. Predictable in terms of story and unimaginative in terms of game design, Detention doesn't work as a game.
This review is based on a free review copy provided to RPGFan by the developer. This relationship in no way influenced the reviewer's opinion of the game or its final score.