Psychological horror is difficult to do well, so when games like Devotion come around, it’s pretty damn special. Despite initially appearing as an average first-person horror game, Devotion isn’t a haunted house simulator with jump scares. It doesn’t want you to jump out of your skin. It wants you to scoot over so it can join you in there. No matter how much you’d rather it didn’t.
Set in 1980’s Taiwan, Devotion tells the tragic story of a family torn apart by faith, failure, and social pressure. It’s a cultural game, but Red Candle Games know how to present it so that it will resonate with any audience. The game’s themes—that blindly devoting yourself to something is dangerous, and that we are capable of terrible things once we hit a breaking point—are universal human issues that are not blocked by cultural boundaries. The game’s files also help clear up the specific parts of the culture they’re exploring.
Just like their previous work on Detention, Red Candle Games has given Devotion a unique visual style. While the game primarily takes place in one apartment, you will often travel to surreal landscapes lush with symbolic, often highly disturbing, imagery. Many scenes warp and change as the game tells its story. The apartment itself is highly detailed, painting an unsettling reality of many Taiwanese homes back in the 80’s. The rooms filled wall-to-wall with religious statues and artifacts. This attention to detail has caught the eyes of several Taiwanese players, who mention in Steam reviews how eerily similar the apartment is to the homes of their grandparents.
Horror that Hits Close to Home
Despite having almost no jump scares, Devotion is not light on horror. From the first second, the game instills a sense of approaching dread. You’ll find yourself hesitating to turn around, or open a door. The game does use some common tricks, but plays on your expectations well. Even the moments you think you see coming will surprise you. One scene made me shudder, pause the game, and walk away for a moment to laugh it off. I don’t scare easily, so for Devotion to get under my skin like that was a nice surprise.
Of course, psychological horror evokes more than just fear. You’ll learn about each family member, but Mei Shin’s story in particular is where the game’s dreary atmosphere really takes off. Mei Shin is the family’s little girl, and her story—whenever it takes center stage—is heart-wrenching. While her parents toil away with their obsessions, Mei Shin wants nothing more than to earn her family’s affection. She grounds the story in reality, showing us the painful side-effects of witless religious devotion.
One thing that may disappoint Detention fans is that Devotion is quite short. A fully-detailed, animated 3D space takes a lot more work to develop than a side-scrolling adventure game. They put a ton of details into the environment to make it feel alive and vibrant. They even recorded footage for the small TV segments that play throughout the game. The result is a tight, well-paced experience that feels complete but clocks in at just shy of two hours. The quality of those two hours more than make up for the length, so if you enjoyed Detention, don’t let it discourage you.
No Happy Endings Here
While some details are vague and left up to interpretation, Devotion’s story is clean cut. Unlike Detention, a second playthrough isn’t necessary to piece together the finer details. The ending ties up the game’s themes well. It’s not exactly satisfying, but you won’t be left with many questions. In the end, you’ll know the family’s full story—for better or worse.
- Heavy atmosphere with striking, disturbing visuals.
- Subtle, psychological scares that don’t rely on jumping out at you.
- Powerful, concise story that sticks with you.
- Top notch sound design and music.
- Short length may disappoint some.
- A lot of signs and visuals in the game are not translated.
Good ghost stories dig deep into our psyche, reflecting our views of the world and revealing the haunting truths just out of sight. Devotion blends the supernatural with harsh reality, relying on intense imagery to instill fear of the mundane world around you. It shows us what kind of damage we can do in good faith. It’ll stick with you, clinging to your mind as you go about your day-to-day life.
As you toil away, in faith or in labor, you may even think of Mei Shin, and keep sight of what’s truly important.
Devotion is available now on Steam.