Wednesday, February 27, 2019

Devotion review - short, smart 1980s apartment horror that channels the spirit of PT

Devotion is about coming home, time and again, and never quite arriving. A perfectly insidious horror game from Detention developer Red Candle, it follows the plight of a troubled young family - mother, father, daughter - over seven years in a single, cramped apartment in 1980s Taiwan. Beyond the prologue, in which your character awakens from a daze on the living room sofa, you'll be able to explore three incarnations of the apartment side by side - three intricate studies of domestic life, feeding off from a hall where photos slowly cover noticeboards like multiplying lichen. Your task for much of the game is to make the connections between these spaces and timeframes, restoring the patchy memories linked to those photos and (so you hope) entering into a "flawless present". The problem, of course, is that few of those memories are pleasant, and many of them are out to get you in turn.

Playing in the first-person, you tip-toe about with a lighter shivering in your fist, picking up objects and applying them to other objects according to simple clues scribbled in the margins of journals or photos. As in Konami's PT, a short-form masterpiece that continues to bedevil designers years after it was removed from sale, you must reckon with both a nasty abundance of blindspots and the apartment's habit of shape-shifting when out of view. The interior design lacks PT's relentless focus, following its corridor around and around as though rewinding a cassette until the tape disintegrates, but there are moments of unease here to equal anything in a horror game north of 2000. The best horror is about doing a lot with a little - a viscous exhalation on the edge of hearing, a skewing of perspective that chases all warmth from a room - and Devotion's deceptively small layout is a mass of stiletto touches that gradually take you apart.

Consider the hall between the living room and the master bedroom. Sometimes it appears unremarkable save for a faulty light that flickers far too rhythmically, taunting with the thought of what might stutter into motion during each metronomic slice of darkness. Sometimes the plaster is crowded with crayon doodles: sausage-string children waving trophies, cats with crimson lamprey jaws. In each case, the scariest prospect is simply rounding the corner beneath that flickering light to see what has become of the bedroom. Elsewhere, the problem is seeing too much at once, not being able to compartmentalise your dread. It's perilously easy, for instance, to glance through from the living room into one of the bedrooms and spot something you're not quite ready to deal with, not just yet. There's no combat in Devotion, and no player death as such, but there are plenty of creatures and objects you'll want to stay away from. A red umbrella ripening in mid-air, as playfully incongruous as one of Pennywise's balloons. A wooden mannequin stooped over a kitchen counter, vegetable knife in hand.

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by February 27, 2019 at 03:00AM

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