I’m a real sucker for horror games. Ever since I played Shadowgate for the NES, scary and macabre games really struck a chord with me. One of the things I love most about horror games is that there is so much variety. I can paint a wall with zombie brains in one game, outrun a silent killer in the woods in another, and avoid an unstoppable space creature in a third. In the case of the recently-released downloadable title White Night, I found myself in one of my favorite horror settings: the haunted house. Nothing spooks me more than being stalked by an unseen entity. Add in a dark, decrepit mansion and an ever-dwindling supply of light, and you’ve got all the makings of a real fright fest. But where White Night shines in style, the substance makes you feel a bit like you’ve been left in the dark.
Platforms: PC, PS4 (Version Played), Xbox One
Developer: OSome Studios
Genre: Don’t-Go-In-There Survival Horror
Release Date: March 2, 2015
ESRB Rating: Mature
White Night, which takes place during the depression era of the 1930s, puts you in the role of a man who, while driving home intoxicated, swerves to avoid a woman in white wandering the street. He subsequently crashes, and comes across a creepy mansion while looking for both the strange woman as well as aid for his injuries. Quickly, he learns that while the house appears to be empty, it is anything but. You spend the game trying to find a way out, while unraveling the mystery of the woman in white and the chilling history of the house’s residents.
White Night appears to be inspired by classic horror games, namely Alone in the Dark, 7th Guest, and the first Resident Evil. Puzzle solving, low supplies, and that ever-present feeling of complete dread permeate White Night, leaving you uneasy even as you backtrack to a room you were positive was empty a minute ago. The game is a slow burn, building that sense of trepidation, then maintaining the fear and introducing some jump scares, then finally unleashing the real horror towards the end. It’s a tried-and-true formula that works well in horror movies (hopefully, you saw The Inkeepers), and translates quite effectively to White Night.
The noirish art style adds to the game’s sense of unease as well. White Night incorporates a stark and sparse black-and-white palette, which fits in with the game’s setting. It’s definitely a contrast from what we’re used to seeing, and helps make White Night stand out among other horror titles. The color scheme also adds to the overall experience, as it really makes you feel like you’re exploring an old house in the 1930s.
As you navigate the mansion, you come across newspaper clippings, photographs, and diary entries, all designed to inform you of the lives of the former residents of the house. I thoroughly enjoy this “explanation by exploration” approach to storytelling, as I tend to find cutscenes less memorable. Reading the notes left behind also adds a bit of characterization to the house, which is good as there aren’t a whole lot of characters in the game to begin with.
Except, of course, for Margaret. The main antagonist of the game, Margaret – or should I say, her ghost – is as scary as they come. She will pop up out of nowhere, accompanied by shrill music and a bit of shaky camera movement, which only adds to the intensity. The worst part of it is that there’s only one way to stop her: run. Get back to the safety of the light. Because if you don’t get there, you’re dead. There’s no shaking her off and getting a chance to flee; if she catches you, it’s game over. You need to be extremely careful, especially in the dark, as there’s nothing you can do to stop her. Your only way to combat the phantom is to turn on various lamps and light fireplaces around the house, creating safe zones of light. There are times when turning on a light when a ghost is under it vaporizes it, allowing you to proceed forward. Plus, taking out one of these buggers after dying and restarting multiple times is so satisfying.
The only tool at your disposal is your diminishing supply of matches. Matches are required to make your way from one light source to the next, and some key items are only visible if you have a lit match. Unfortunately, you can only hold twelve matches at a time, and once a match goes out, you only have a few seconds to light a new one or get to a lit area before the darkness consumes you. To make matters worse, running results in your match going out faster, and sometimes your new match is a dud and won’t light. It’s a questionable play mechanic, as you’ll spend a good deal of the game searching every corner and backtracking, and having a limited supply of light is rather daunting.
And the issues don’t end there. I appreciate that OSome is trying to replicate the old-school survival horror experience, and White Night accomplishes that, but there are some problems inherent with the classic titles that should probably have been left out. Firstly, there are no checkpoints. The only way to save your progress is to find easy chairs strewn about the mansion. Sitting in one saves your game. It’s not as annoying as having to keep ink ribbons in your inventory a la Resident Evil, but it’s still very frustrating when you lose a half-hour’s worth of progress because you didn’t save every few minutes.
Additionally, the one-hit deaths are also problematic. If you so much as make a wrong turn, that ghost will be on you without giving you much time to react. And since you can’t see the ghost until it’s almost in front of your face, you’ll find yourself restarting a lot. Add this to the checkpoint issue, and you’ll see why it sometimes gets aggravating. Also, since this is a black-and-white game, there’s really not a whole lot of visual cues as to where important items are. Matchboxes seem to glow in the dark, which is great. I just wish a lot of the other items were as easy to find. Again, I understand the classic, non-handholding, point-and-click gameplay, but if you’re spending an entire game fumbling around in the dark, at least shed a little light on what I can and cannot interact with.
The issues that I had with White Night are, of course, personal preferences. The game is still largely playable, and actually quite entertaining. I love the art style, and the music and character narration adds to the already fantastic production values. Regrettably, in their attempt to make the game as true to classic horror titles as possible, OSome Studios may have done too good a job; and kept in the exasperating elements as well as those that work. But again, it’s not like the game is unplayable. Those of you who are not as accustomed to these types of games may find yourself getting flustered and want to give up. But stick with it, as White Night is a fun game despite its flaws. And if you’re a diehard survival horror fan and love those retro titles, you’ll quickly get that nostalgic feeling you had back when you first booted that Resident Evil or Phantasmagoria CD. Just make sure to hang on to those matches.
Review Disclosure: A review copy of White Night was provided by OSome Studios for the purposes of this review.