It is hard not to be initially taken by White Night. The heavy film noir style coupled with the gravelly voiceover harks back to the old style detective and horror movies with the presentation wrapped up in a stark black and white palette. It feels distinctly fresh, different than many other titles that have arrived in the last few months, simply by daring to look different. How it plays however is distinctly old school.
The plot centres on the exploration of a house where the lights have gone out and no one appears to be home. As should be obvious there is some form of tragedy that has occurred and the main aim divulges into two separate requirements, to get out and find out what happened. What this translates to is a noir version of Resident Evil where fixed camera angles present each environment for both exploration and puzzle solving.
It also presents each arena with enemies. Specifically apparition’s intent on consuming the player should they to stray too close. They can be defeated by electric light, and the creation of that is one of the central pillars of the gameplay. The art style is not just an artistic choice; it is also key to progress.
Light plays an important part throughout the game as generating it illuminates solutions and creates the ability to defeat the apparitions. But it needs to be electric light, something that is in short supply upon initially entering the mansion, leading to matches being the only way to initially explore the surroundings. There is a thrill of both nervousness and intrigue in exploring this location under limited light, trying desperately to find a light switch to alleviate the brooding atmosphere present in the environment.
This is where the game excels, the slow pace of exploration and gradual unravelling of the story through finding clues and solving puzzles is both tense and exhilarating. There is a pervasive feeling of foreboding in every room that is entered, a sense of danger mixed with intrigue that is very well expressed by the art style where at times the only window open to the player is created by a single match.
The other clever aspect of this is limiting the number of matches that can be carried at any time. With only 12 in the inventory and refills not always available there is a risk and reward balance to take into account when exploring. How far is it worth trekking to explore further when the only supply of light could run out? Certainly there were moments during my playthrough where I feared my supply would dwindle, adding another layer of anxiety to the experience. Coupled with a manual save system it meant each exploration trip became a question of how far could I go before needing to head back to a save location. It is a good dynamic, one that forced decisions onto me on a regular basis and made me question what I needed to do so that I did not lose the progress that I had made so far.
Unfortunately this also leads to the biggest frustration. The apparitions that exist can kill in a single hit and are frustratingly inconsistent in their environment placement. They appear to follow no fixed pattern and appear almost at random, leading to some of the most annoying exploration I have had for a very long time. Due to the fixed camera angles it can be incredibly easy to get caught on a piece of scenery and the darkness means walking blindly into an apparition is far easier than it should be. There have been attempts to provide signs that something is wrong through the flicking of the match light but that is rarely enough indication before I was hit.
It can almost ruin the game as an exploration experience and it comes across as feeling almost forced, as if the developers felt like a threat was required to provide impetuous and fear to the environment they had created. While it does fit in and makes sense with the plot there are points where simple exploration mixed with well-crafted scares and a sense of unease would have provided the same outcome.
There are also a lot of written collectibles, the tale being told piecemeal by journals, diary entries and correspondents. It breaks the flow of the game, consistently stops and starts the gameplay and calls out for the words to be spoken rather than read. However the reality of independent development means this may have been a cost they could not afford to take.
White Night feels like a good idea filled with compromise. A superb setting and art style compounded by the need for a threat that nearly overrode my enjoyment of the game. I liked the exploration and unravelling a tale in an environment that felt both familiar and different, using light to discover my next move and plot my escape. There is a lot to enjoy here, a lot to explore but be warned the frustrations could eventually suffocate that feeling of accomplishment.