White Night Review
White Night is a black and white horror game, from OSome Studio, that takes you back to the 1930s to reluctantly investigate the mysteries of a haunted mansion. The game succeeds far more than it fails, but its artistic vision sometimes impedes on the game design in frustrating ways.
And yet, it's an experience I won't forget anytime soon.
White Night pits you as a nameless detective who veers off the road after narrowly missing a strange girl standing in the middle of the blacktop. Our detective hits a lamp post just outside of the uber-creepy Vesper family mansion. He's injured and so enters the grounds in an attempt to find help. As any normal chap would, he takes it upon himself to find the key to the front door and enter unannounced. Upon entering the domain, you quickly realize that everything is not quite right.
Storytelling is the raison d'etre of White Night, the thing that will ultimately keep you playing when you get over the initial heebie-jeebies. You will find newspaper clippings, photographs, and dozens of letters from members of the Vesper family, who are clearly still inhabiting the building. Family portraits and weird art decorate the walls of every room and hallway, shedding further light on who each person was.
The sheer amount of narrative and environmental storytelling on hand is incredible, and it isn't long until you feel like you know the Vesper family quite well. But the real star of the show isn't a Vesper at all.
Selena, a deceased jazz singer, haunts the house along with the other apparitions, but she is clearly different from the rest. While the other ghosts are out to harm and halt you from figuring out the secrets, Selena is your guiding light and somewhat of a trapped soul. The story of Selena is the real focus of the game, and it's one that keeps your gripped throughout. The story is actually great if you collect and read everything to be found.
As you can tell from the pictures, White Night is a very stylish game. Entirely black and white, the game tasks you with navigating the darkness while avoiding the apparitions that dwell there, but more on the gameplay later.
The game is heavily inspired by noir and horror fiction, particularly The Black Dahlia and The Rats in the Walls. While noir is a very underutilized genre in video games, White Night is a little ham-fisted with its noir tropes. It's very generic noir with its grizzled detective, the female jazz singer who gets in trouble with the mob, etc., etc. However they never cross into the utterly stupid tropes.
I also couldn't help but notice similarities to the original Resident Evil. White Night has fixed camera angles throughout the entire house and you solve puzzles to progress, in very similar fashion to the horror classic.
The visual style is definitely the game's selling point and most memorable feature. Had it been in full-color the story would have still been good but it would lose a ton of its charm. The darkness is all-encompassing and does an excellent job of causing tension, claustrophobia, and a wonderfully simple fear of the dark.
Strike a Match
As you scour the mansion for clues as to what may have happened the family, you must use matches to light your way. These matches are your best friend but are in limited supply. You can only have 12 matches at a time, and they burn out after 15-20 seconds, some don't even catch fire at all! However, boxes of matches are scattered throughout the mansion, so you rarely find yourself fading into darkness with none left. That being said, there were a few occasions in the game where I found myself running around in a panic, only seconds remaining on my last match, searching for a fresh box.
So, why the panic to avoid the dark? Because the Vesper family is there, straddling the line between life and death. They haunt the hallways of the mansion, in goosebump-inducing forms that eerily echo classic ghost photographs we've all seen at some point or another. Should you be without light for more than 6-8 seconds, you will be taken by the night.
However, that's essentially the gameplay in a nutshell; hit circle to light a match, move around, examine/read/interact with things, avoid ghosts, and run when necessary. It's a very simple system but it doesn't really need to be much more complicated. Keep in mind, though, the one big issue is the fixed camera angles.
On quite a few occasions in the game, I ended up running into a ghost simply because the camera angle did not show them. Much more annoying is when the camera shifts and you run into one simply because your direction changed. I can probably count on two hands the number of times this happened, but it is still painfully frustrating when it does because you don't want to die when it is of no fault of your own.
Insidious? or Intriguing?
Speaking of dying, White Night classifies itself as a horror game, and many of those elements are there, but is it truly a horror experience? Well, yes and no. In the first few hours the game managed to spook me and offer a few jump scares, though its real horror stems from the awesome atmosphere mentioned previously. The problem is that the scares never elevate.
The beginning of the experience is the most tense and hair-raising. When you enter the mansion and begin exploring, only to catch a glimpse of something spooky walk past in the background or a door open by itself, this is truly chilling. And the first time you get chased and caught by an apparition is pretty dang scary. But then your fear dissipates because you know what to expect. You know what will happen when the ghost gets you, and you figure out how to avoid them, so it becomes less tense and more tedious to navigate a room filled with apparitions.
That being said, the game could be anywhere between 4-8 hours long, depending on how much you explore and really dig your teeth into the story. This is one of the best parts of White Night, the fact that there is an easy to follow story for someone who just want the scares or play the stylish experience, but there's a lot of depth to the story for explorers and those willing to read, a lot.
White Night is a beautiful game that doesn't fully embrace its horror elements. Yes, the horror aspects are present throughout, it is a ghost story after all, and the atmosphere is consistently claustrophobic and creepy, but it fails to build upon its initial greatness. Had the game continually elevated the scares and tension as the story progresses, you could be looking at something incredibly special, but instead you've got a memorable story and art style mixed with a few jump-scares and tension.
I don't want to sell the game short because it is a very enjoyable experience and one that sticks with you long after it's done but it could have been that bit better. It's the closest thing I've gotten to a sequel to Scooby Doo: Classic Creep Capers (GBC) in 14 years, so I thoroughly enjoyed the experience.
The story is fascinating if you devote enough time to reading the diary passages and newspaper excerpts. The gameplay is simple but effective, albeit jarring with the fixed camera angles on occasion. The horror elements start off with a bang but continue the same beat throughout, rather than throwing in a few different notes. Ultimately, if you enjoy games like Resident Evil, Gone Home, Outlast, or Lone Survivor, you will probably enjoy White Night.
White Night is a horror game you won't forget, even if it's not all that scary.