Devotion review – the spirit of Silent Hill

Devotion (PC) – not Resident Evil 2

The creators of 2017’s Detention return with another gripping ghost story that may be the scariest survival horror of the year.

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Now that the Resident Evil 2 remake has been confirmed as an unqualified success it’s no doubt going to cause a lot of gamers to wonder whether survival horror might be ready for another renaissance. That hope has been dashed too many times for us to give it any credence but at the very least it should become easier to throw a spotlight on other horror games this year, especially those that take a considerably different approach to the shlockly action thrills of Capcom’s blockbuster.

Devotion is not an action game, some may even dismiss it as a walking sim, but what it is is absolutely terrifying. There are many ways to make you scared playing a video game – the medium is arguably better suited to the task than even movies – but Devotion generally relies on slow burn psychological horror rather than jump scares, although it has those too on occasion.

This is the latest game from Taiwanese developer Red Candle Games, who created 2017’s excellent Detention. Like that game, Devotion is also very much tied to the history and folklore of its creator’s homeland. It’s set in Taiwan in the 1980s, with you playing the role of a down-on-their-luck screenwriter, whose former pop idol wife has given up the limelight in order to raise their young daughter. Although to say their attempts at parenting have been flawed is to understate things considerably…

Devotion (PC) – scary as hell

Rather than Resident Evil, it’s Silent Hill which is the obvious point of comparison for Red Candle’s work, and Devotion even more so than their last game. While Detention had a strong political element to its story the focus here is more on religion, specifically Taoism and Buddhism. Their principles may not be immediately obvious to many Western gamers but that doesn’t get in the way of understanding the plot and the awful extremes to which the family has taken their religious faith.

Devotion is a first person game, and features some surprisingly detailed graphics for an indie title. Thanks to the equally arresting soundtrack, the atmosphere is immediately oppressive and intimidating – even as the game starts off in seemingly mundane fashion with what seems to be an ordinary flat, complete with ‘80s pop music drifting out of the radio.

As in both Silent Hill and Detention, the environment is eventually transformed into a hell-like alternative dimension but here the transition is far subtler and more disturbing. Things move and change just as you’re beginning to look the other way, as the world around you distorts in ways that mean at first you’re not even sure they really happened.

Devotion is not the most gameplay-intensive of titles but there are a series of puzzles that revolve around an unexpected time travel element, which has you visiting the same flat in different years (but still within the ‘80s) in order to try and create a more positive present day.

This primarily involves bring objects backwards or forwards with you and while the puzzles themselves are never very difficult, all give additional insight into the main characters as you deal with their various heirlooms. Eventually the backstories of all three main family members become clearer and both you and the main character realise, essentially at the same time, how and why their family life has disintegrated into its current state.

Devotion (PC) – Annabelle who?

Although the game’s translation is mostly pretty good it’s the environmental storytelling which is most impressive in Devotion. There’s a recurring theme of a child’s doll, for example, which sounds like a dull horror cliché but rather than being included just because it looks a bit spooky here it represents the father’s detached, objectified view of his daughter.

Also impressive is the subtle differences between the flat in each era, and what that says about the current state of each of the occupants. But if we’re giving the impression that this is some emotionally detached walking sim then let us emphasise that this may be the scariest game we’ve played since the P.T. demo of Silent Hills.

The sheer unpredictability of what you’ll see and when is one factor but again it’s the more nuanced elements that really drives the horrors home, especially once you realise how pitiable some of the apparitions are.

The only major flaws with Devotion are also shared by the previous game, with a comparatively weak third act and a running time that is barely three hours long. Devotion is also currently being review-bombed by Chinese gamers because of a joke at the expense of President Xi Jinping and his supposed resemblance to Winnie the Pooh, and we fear that’s probably why Red Candle’s website is down at time of writing.

Perhaps that will ultimately raise the profile of the game though, as it certainly deserves to be played by as many people as possible. Being scary is one thing but being scary and smart moves the game into rarefied company when it comes to any medium. Whether survival horror does stage a comeback or not almost doesn’t matter now, as we’ve had two great games from both ends of the horror spectrum and to aficionados of the genre this is just as essential as Resident Evil 2.


In Short: One of the best survival horror games of the generation, that’s frequently terrifying but also surprisingly nuanced and intelligent when it comes to its storytelling.

Pros: The transition from 80s mundanity to supernatural nightmare is handled extremely well, with some very clever storytelling and puzzle integration. Very effective graphics and music.

Cons: Only three hours long and the ending is not going to please everyone.

Score: 8/10

Formats: PC
Price: £13.49
Publisher: Red Candle Games
Developer: Red Candle Games
Release Date: 19th February 2019
Age Rating: N/A

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