I honestly didn’t know I wanted a game like White Night until I started playing it. Blending elements of a Hitchcockian ghost story with a classic 1930s film noir aesthetic and a stunning monochromatic art scheme creates a wonderfully unique hodgepodge full of familiar tropes and a twisted tale of lingering spirits. It’s just a shame that the gameplay elements can’t match the lofty expectations set by the unforgettable presentation.
Like any good noir tale, White Night begins with a dame in need of the kind of help that only a private eye can provide. On a stormy night, a detective swerves his car off the road to avoid hitting a mysterious blonde, injuring himself in the process and eventually looking for shelter in the creepy mansion just up the road. Once inside, he finds himself embroiled in a classic ghost story, fighting both evil spirits and the darkness to learn more about the eerie abode, its inhabitants and why restless souls continue to haunt its corridors.
Fondly recalling the survival horror titles of yesteryear, White Night makes fantastic use of fixed camera angles and simplistic exploration to tell a story that only grows more interesting as more details are revealed. The antagonistic spirits that roam the pitch-black mansion thrive in the overbearing darkness and can only be dispelled by electric lighting, making any unprepared journeys into an unlit wing a surefire way to meet your end. Matches can be collected and used to shine some light in darkened rooms, but only for a short time and without doing any damage to ghosts.
In classic survival horror fashion, White Night has you desperately searching for items and save points despite the dangerous obstacles that lurk in the way. Watching a match sputter out and realizing that it was your last one will fill you with a primal fear that’s only accented by the excellent score. Full of jazzy numbers reminiscent of the 1930s era it’s representing, it builds tension during exploration and releases it with aplomb during ghostly encounters.
The monochromatic art style is a beautifully striking idea that bears more resemblance to noir than horror, but the design of the mansion and the ghosts make the most of the design. Ghosts huddle in black swirls of fog, making them possible to spot in the darkness but still frightening enough to make you jump throughout short story. Inciting the wrath of one of these apparitions leads to a chase to the nearest well-lit area, and while they’re tense affairs full of suspense, they highlight much of what’s wrong with the gameplay.
Since ghosts can’t actively be battled, White Night is mostly an adventure game that concerns itself with puzzles and plot devices. In the survival horror tradition, the fixed camera uses static angles to great effect, setting up more than a few shots that left me staring in admiration for a few seconds before moving on. If this were a film, it would win major awards for cinematography. But unfortunately, it’s a game that has to be played, meaning the fixed camera becomes a nuisance before long.
Encounters with ghosts can be survived by quickly escaping, but trying to maneuver through the darkened halls as the camera jarringly changes angles leads to more deaths than should occur. It’s a mild frustration that only grows worse as the awe of the art direction wears off and is replaced with agitation at the stiff character movement and the distance between save points.
White Night seems to take some perverse pleasure in killing you in unavoidable ways, such as posting a ghost right outside of the camera’s view, leaving you to wander straight into its path without a chance to retaliate. The pervasive darkness also tends to obscure necessary objects, especially light switches, leading to tons of unnecessary laps around a room, facing the wall and waiting for an icon to pop up.
While the exploration and the story behind the haunted house are both compelling, collecting the many logs, diaries and other written collectibles throughout White Night makes for a text-heavy experience that can easily break the flow up too easily. The gritty narration moves things along with cliched similes that every private eye ever has spouted before, but the awkward translation leads to quite a few unintentionally comedic moments.
When White Night is working as a horror experience, it really works. The tension created by the perfect score, beautifully realized environments and art style and frightening enemies work together to craft a truly suspenseful experience. It’s just a shame that OSome Studio let their artistic ambitions get in the way of the gameplay, choosing to let the game suffer just to maintain the very specific artistic vision. Since it’s a downloadable title at a relatively low price, it’s worth checking out just for the mystery and the unique art style, but beware: White Night is nowhere near as fun to play as it is to look at.
This review is based on a PlayStation 4 copy of the game given to us for review purposes.
Despite a gorgeous monochromatic art style and an intriguing mix of noir and survival horror elements, White Night allows its artistic ambition to overreach its clunky, frustrating combat.