White Night / 13th of March 2015
For anyone that knows me, or has been following our coverage in the build up to the launch of this debut title from Osome Studio, you’d know that this is one indie title that I have been quite eagerly looking forward to, but with all of my expectations for the game, has it actually managed to live up to them? The answer, sadly, is no, and for all that the game gets right, it’s the few niggling design issues that cloud the overall experience and leave gamers coming away feeling rather less than impressed.
In White Night, players assume the role of a man, who believes that he has ran over a young woman whilst driving home late one night (much like the opening to Alan Wake’s initial dream sequence), he swerves to avoid her and crashes, injuring himself in the process. After clambering out of the vehicle, he staggers towards the gates of an old, seemingly abandoned house, and it is here, within the grave strewn garden that the adventure really starts. The story is told mostly through the diary excerpts and newspaper clippings that can be found throughout the mansion, though there are obviously some cut-scenes and dream sequences that help to further its advance.
Also, like Remedy’s Alan Wake, the game features a strong emphasis on light and dark which is integrated into the puzzle solving elements of the game, which are usually overcome by shining a light onto a particular objects, such as keys, daggers, light switches and so forth. Light though, is also your weapon against the game’s enemies, these taking the form of ghosts that, rather sadly, can perform instant kill should you creep to close to them, whilst the typical light from a match doesn’t offer much protection against them, they can be vanquished with electric lights. However, this does not prevent them from becoming one of the biggest mistakes in White Night.
The game utilises an old-school save system that ignores checkpoints in favour of specific save points, these being armchairs as opposed to the typewriters of Resident Evil, and it is this scarcity of save points that truly compounds the ghost problem. These nefarious beings can literally appear out of nowhere, leaving you no time to react, which means that you’ll likely be repeating vast sections of the game over and over again, and given the rather obtuse nature of the puzzles, this will likely see long periods of head scratching quickly give way to an irate stream of foul mouthed abuse (at least if you’re me, that is). For a game that prides itself on being primarily story driven, such gameplay elements repeatedly rip players out of the narrative, not to mention to eerie atmosphere that the team did so well to cultivate.
The character’s main source of light in combating the darkness comes from the boxes of matches that are scattered around the many rooms of the old house, and it is a good idea to keep an eye on the counter in the top corner of the screen, for, should you run out, the result is an almost guaranteed game over, as the character begins to panic until a light source is found, or he dies. The latter being the most likely occurrence. To add further insult to injury, matches regularly misfire, which feels – yet again – as though the game is simply punishing you for playing it, and this is something that it could surely do without.
In terms of its aesthetics, White Night is a truly beautiful experience, cast in high contrast black and white, the only colour that makes an appearance in the game stems from the various light sources, which is reminiscent of Spielberg’s Schindler’s List, or the blood splattered world of Platinum Games’ excellent, Madworld. The look can be absolutely stunning, from the black moon against a white sky, or the vast arcs of flickering white that bathe the once darkened rooms in their cold light, there are very few gaming experiences that can claim to have art styles of this calibre, and even fewer who can honestly say that it is an integral part of the experience. To further the game’s survival-horror leanings, White Night even relies upon fixed camera angles, much like its forebears, but this too creates its own problems, as a sudden change in viewpoint quickly sees the character change direction, which, more often than not, can lead him straight into the arms of a waiting ghost.
With such a wonderful atmosphere and gorgeous visuals, White Night should surely have been one of the best games of the year, and save for its horrific dialogue, camera issues and some intolerably frustrating gameplay elements, it probably would have been too, which probably makes it all the more disappointing really. From standing on the precipice of greatness, what we have instead is simply mediocre, and whilst this might very well show exactly how difficult it is to create the perfect survival-horror game, it still makes for an incredibly difficult game to recommend, despite its glorious artistic achievements.