I have a confession to make: I don’t really like horror games. I’m too jumpy to play games where jump scares are around most corners, and the rest feel too slow. But even though I knew what I was getting into, I wanted to try White Night. Its themes and style really set it apart, and I was excited to see how they paid off. And while I was impressed with the unique take on horror, it wasn’t quite the masterpiece I was hoping for.
To clarify, White Night isn’t entirely a horror game. It’s also an adventure game – or a puzzle game – depending on how you look at it. The game is set in the 1930s, in the midst of the Great Depression. Placing the game in this time period lends itself nicely the film noir atmosphere. This is readily apparent in that the graphics are almost entirely in black and white. It isn’t quite cel-shaded, but it does have sort of an illustrated style to it. The plot follows a similar theme; you play as a detective recovering from a car accident, displayed cleverly through the opening credits. In search of the woman he thinks he hit, he finds himself in front of a dilapidated (though apparently recently occupied) mansion.
The rest of the game has the detective exploring the mansion and its grounds, with documents throughout that piece together the setting’s story. Combined with the typical film noir narration, it all feels like someone has taken a detective film and added ghosts, and it works much better than one might expect. The ghosts are a worry though; as you explore the mansion and try to find answers, malevolent spirits will try to halt your progress. Only electric lights can stop them, which we’ll come back to. Outside of that, though, White Night plays more like an adventure game than a horror game. You have to find items and figure out what to do with them to progress. An example from early in the game: you have to find two logs in a room so you can light a fire in the fireplace, so that you can open a chest and find a record, which will lead you to a key for another room. It takes a little while for this gameplay pattern to become apparent, but eventually it becomes easier to see what’s going on.
Beyond that, gameplay involves themes of light and darkness. The player must keep matches lit to see in the dark mansion, or else most of it is pitch black. The match surrounds the character with a small spotlight, enough to make things visible. Fortunately, while a match doesn’t last long and you can only hold 12 at a time, the game doesn’t make it too hard to find more. But to get a better view of your surroundings, you need to turn on the electric lights. Sometimes, this is significantly harder than it seems. This aspect of the gameplay works wonderfully with the graphical style. Light from the match is white, and it adds white to the pitch black room. The electric lights do the same, but their light is yellow, a conspicuous bit of color in an almost entirely monochromatic game. It does, if nothing else, emphasize their importance.
White Night does still have elements of horror, of course, to complete the package. There are a few well placed jump scares, but they never feel gimmicky or unnecessary. Jump scares done right are a great way to make the player feel the character’s fear. The main horror, though, comes from the ghosts haunting the mansion. The antagonistic ghost’s identity is suggested even before you see it, and it blocks off parts of the mansion. To get rid of it, you need to make use of the electric lights that are strategically placed throughout. That’s why you’ll often find yourself dashing around a room looking for a switch. If the ghost gets you, it’s back to your last save.
Unfortunately, this can get really annoying when the way to clear your path isn’t obvious. You can only save in certain rooms after you’ve turned on the lights. That means getting caught sometimes sends you back significantly, and you’ll need to retrace your steps until you get it right. One particular sequence I had to try at least 10 times before I got clear and was able to save. This is also compounded by the other issue that haunts White Night: the graphical style is wonderful, and it accentuates part of the gameplay, but it also makes it hard to tell different rooms and areas apart. This combined with the fixed camera angles makes it extremely difficult to navigate. I got my bearings eventually, but each new room or passage adds more to remember.
In a game like White Night, not being able to navigate properly is a constant pain. This may be a matter of opinion though; I’ve seen others play without any trouble. Overall, though, there are still enough issues to keep this game from being a must-play. For me at least, the near constant frustration of trying to find my way around takes me right out of the atmosphere. And when you add that to one hit killing ghosts and sparse save points, the game can become an exercise in futility. Still, if you’re not scared away by the threat of hindered navigation, there is a lot to love about White Night. It nails the setting and the style, and the story does enough to keep players intrigued. If you have the patience, you might want to give it a go; otherwise, feel free to sleep in.
Graphics - 8/10
Gameplay - 5/10
Story - 6/10
+ Excellent atmosphere
+ Great storytelling
+ Interesting use of light and darkness
– Hard to get around
– Not enough save points