White Night is a psychological thriller that blends the unease of a Hitchcock film with the contrasting aesthetics of Frank Miller. It is a game that smells of survival horror at first glance, though in truth, it is very much designed like an adventure game. Advancement isn’t so much about defeating monsters, it is about collecting items and completeing puzzles to move the story forward with a little bit of chase scenes thrown in to give the player a sense of urgency while exploring a creepy old mansion. An unsettling experience, White Night offers a great sense of style that creates an effective atmosphere of dread. Unfortunately, nuances in gameplay have a tendency to offer moments of needless frustration and confusion.
There has yet to be a game that sets amidst the turmoil caused by the Great Depression. An apocalyptic financial collapse that brought the country to a standstill, many were left struggling in the wake of such ruin, their shared experiences presented in the classic novel, The Grapes of Wrath. The Depression serves as the tonal backdrop to White Night, which causes the circumstances surrounding a series of grisly murders similar to Jack the Ripper, in that someone is targeted prostitutes and other desperate women. The murders are detailed in the many journals found scattered within an old mansion, a place the player character discovers after crashing his car nearby. The mansion holds many terrible secrets and is home to restless, angry spirits.
The player is rendered almost completely defenseless against the things that go bump in the night. Ghosts will give chase if the player wanders too close and can kill in one hit. There are no conventional weapons that will fend off these creatures and running away is the safest bet to stay alive. However, ghosts react strongly to electrical light. Scattered throughout the dilapidated house are opportunities to banish ghosts by catching them under a light source. A useful method of attack, but the number of functional desk lamps and chandeliers is low, so its often best to avoid them whenever necessary. With so few light sources, the mansion is constantly pitch black. Matches help to light the way and allow interaction with the environment but they won’t burn forever, flickering out without so much of a warning which makes exploration all the more unsettling. White Night offers a simplistic design that isn't any different than say, Telltale’s adventure series. There are no dialog options, as the only person the player talks to is himself through internal monologues.
The game portion of White Night is decent and not particularly exciting. There’s an intentional old school flair in the game that, honestly, should have stayed in the history books. Video games have evolved from camera relative controls and fixed camera angles for a reason. Navigating the mansion, especially when pursued by ghosts, can be a chore. The controls change in every scene transition and what was forward in a previous scene is now backwards in the next. If you let up on the analog stick during these transitions, its easy to fudge movement and go back to the last screen or, worse yet, into the arms of an angry ghost. There are no auto save in White Night, and progress must be recorded manually by sitting in armchairs (but only with they reside within a light source). By itself, a manual save system isn’t a terrible thing - I had no problem with it in Alien: Isolation. Where it becomes a problem is the game’s inability to let you skip cutscenes during replays and the general unpredictability of ghosts whose patrol routes do not reset. I grew frustrated with the numerous occasions where I’d walk through a door and immediately be killed by a ghost I couldn’t see. It sucks having to go back before that section and do it all again.
On its own, White Night is a satisfactory, down the middle adventure game. It’s the presentation that makes the game interesting and compelling in the face of its issues. The Sin City-esque stark black and white aesthetic is perfect for the game’s noir-spin on a psychological thriller. Matches and lamps create great lighting effects, causing blackened hallways and stairwells to be illuminated with large, white discs of light. The discomfort that comes with the inability to clearly see everything around you is what made Silent Hill such a terrifying experience. White Night offers that same level of terror and its awesome. The visual terror is bolstered by an uncomfortable, dissonant soundtrack that is a unique concoction between the sultry music of the Jazz Age with an eerie, Rule of Rose-like collection of music performed by a small string orchestra.
White Night can be completed in an afternoon and once its done, there's no reason to return. There are diaries and photographs that shed light on the family who owns the mansion and the paranoid scribblings the serial killer. Beyond that, why go back when the mystery is solved? Much of White Night’s emotional impact cannot be replicated and when I think back on the experience, there are no subtle clues to pick up on that would benefit a second playthrough (the game’s darkness doesn't help either). White Night offers an intriguing mystery and dialog ripped from the pages of a Mickey Spillane novel and I had a good time with it, frustrations aside. That said, $15 seems a bit much for a game you’re only going to play once.
Librarian by day, Darkstation review editor by night. I've been playing video games since the days of the Commodore 64 and I have no interest in stopping now that I've made it this far.