Devotion is having a bit of a hard time as of late. It has currently been pulled from Steam due to some controversy involving the Chinese President and Winnie the Pooh (it’s as baffling as it sounds) and it’s had some review-bombing because of it too. It’s a real shame – not only for gamers who’re missing out on playing the game but also the developers who clearly put a lot of heart into making it.
I’d been lucky enough to play through the game before this controversy really spiralled out of control, and boy, what an experience it was. Devotion really is a special horror game that fans of… well… being bloody frightened won’t want to miss out on.
Devotion tells the story of a seemingly normal Taiwanese family and how their life crumbled over a period of time in the 80s thanks to the religious following of a nefarious demon spirit. Taking on the role of family father Du Feng Yu, you re-visit your home over different time periods and re-live the memories and witness how everything fell apart around you. That’s putting it in a nutshell, right there – the story plays such an important role in Devotion that I don’t want to detail it too much, just know that it’ll hook you right in until the dramatic conclusion.
Gameplay-wise, Devotion feels more like a walking simulator than anything else, with most of the player’s time being spent exploring the environment, taking in its grisly sights, and interacting with different objects across each time period. There are a small selection of puzzles to solve along the way too, some of which have clues as to how you solve them littered between each time period so you may have to travel back and fore between them if you missed out on some little detail. None of these puzzles will really test you that much or keep you pondering for too long though, but they’re a nice addition that add a distraction to simply looking around.
Rather than being about necessarily solving enigmas, Devotion instead prioritises making you feel like you really are a part of the tale and experiencing the harrowing memories first hand. I don’t really want to go into too much detail about the events that occur in-game not to spoil anything (this really is one of those games where the less you know going in the better), but the way that they’re visually presented can be outright horrifying at times. There’s so much to uncover about the family’s history and everything that occurred in the apartment over that period of time, and almost everything you see and interact with has some significance to the tale.
One of my favourite things about Devotion is just how meaningful the horror is. Whilst there are plenty of creepy sights to be seen including the likes of sinister dolls (which are always frightening) and grotesquely horrific figures (again, frightening), it’s the act of seeing how the family got completely devoted to this demon and how their life changed because of it that is the most horrifying. You’ll start off exploring an almost idealistic family home and seeing everyone interact with each other in normal and loving ways, but it’s not long before you see your home degrade into a place of worship that’s twisted into a shadow of its former self. Seeing how an innocent family got involved in something so menacing and how it truly affected their well-being felt far more frightening than any jump scare in the game, and it’s something that Devotion absolutely managed to nail.
What helps the whole thing come to life is just how attractive the game looks, with each representation of the apartment designed perfectly and offering plenty of minor details that help serve the 80s setting. You can see there’s been a lot of effort in ensuring there’s this authentic feel to the locale, whether it’s with the plethora of newspaper cuttings, the countless references to Taiwanese culture, or just the radio that is always playing something that ties it all together. There’re also some great lighting effects in place as well as some startling sound design that will have you constantly on edge listening out for those things that go bump in the night – honestly, the production value throughout is top notch.
Something that’s worth noting though is that Devotion isn’t a particularly long game, with it coming in at around three hours or so in length depending on how much exploration you do. It doesn’t feel too short though, with the length offering enough time for the eerie tale to unravel without running out of ideas. Admittedly, the slow walking speed of the main character can draw things out a little, though the addition of a run button would’ve probably dampened the creepy atmosphere a bit so all is forgiven there.
Devotion isn’t a horror game that tries to frighten you with cheap jump scares or an emphasis on the grotesque, but rather one that makes you feel like you’re a part of a truly harrowing experience that an innocent family fell victim to. From a gameplay perspective alone it can feel like just another walking simulator, but as far as the horrific atmosphere, the daunting narrative and impressive presentation is concerned it really hits the highest standard.
I thoroughly enjoyed my time with the game and am genuinely excited for more horror fans to get to experience it too. Here’s hoping that Red Candle Games’ can get through this controversy fine and get the game back on Steam, because it really stands up there with some of the better horror titles to have ever hit the platform.
Developer: Red Candle Games
Publisher: Winking Entertainment