Horror games in the last two decades have been through some tremendous changes. Some, including myself, would say the catalyst of this change is the oft-maligned Resident evil series, which during its life has transformed from a game focused on tension permeating from design and situation, to an action orientated leaning with more focus on Jump scares and set peices.
Thankfully, of late, there are games that have been releasing to a large and receptive fan base willing to embrace the original ethos of tension over action with the likes of P.T., Alien Isolation, and finally White Night marking a return to form.
White Night is as neo-Noir in both style and story as you are likely to get. The game opens with your gin-addled character getting behind the wheel of his car to travel to another drinking establishment in the Boston area during the height of the great depression. The extent of his drinking is revealed in the unstable path of the car as you traverse the intervening roads. The journey is cut short by a road traffic accident, caused as you swerve in an attempt to avoid a person in the road, ending up injured from your crash. Regaining control, you find yourself in front of a desolate and bleak mansion. With no other dwellings nearby. With your injuries taking their toll, you venture into this estate in search of much needed aid. What awaits inside will make you realise that the crash, although appearing random, may have been anything but.
Taking the role of your Marlow-esque anti-hero, you find yourself imprisoned in the Ventner-Cross estate, and with the primary aim of surviving as your main motivation, you move deeper into the delapidated manor in search of aid, or ultimately escape. As you venture further the story of the owner and his lineage begins to take form, revealing a dynasty torn by misfortune, despair and insanity during this calamitous period in American history. The background of the Great Depression is expanded in the game through the collectables scattered throughout the mansion, small snippets of insight into the lives of those living there, and those whose lives intersected with the mansion. The style of these entries really flesh out the world and gives the premise a very Lovecraftian feel.
The audio is perfectly placed, with a very Jazz infused gin-house feel to the entire ensemble, and with truly eerie sound effects and voice work. The song that accompanied the live trailer (see above), is also within the game and is, in my opinion, one of the most beatiful, soulful songs I have heard in a video game for a long time. This, for the greater part is due to the mesmerising vocals of the artist. Add to this the gravel voiced monologue of the narrator/main character and the atmosphere and grittiness of the settings oozes forth.
First and foremost, White Night as an old school style adventure game. In it, you must search for clues and items that allow you to progress further into the dark and dangerous rooms. To do this you must dispel the pervading darkness in which your foes lie in wait, with the use of light; either through electric light which normally can be created by finding a switch or solving certain puzzles or through your limited use of matches to give you respite in the sea of gloom.
As I mentioned before, tension and terror are decidedly at the core of this game. Unlike most modern games, there are no oncoming waves of enemies, the angry spirits that manifest in the house are relatively few and far between, so OSome use more visceral effects to maintain the level of tension.
Visually, White Night is all about contrast. Light and Dark. Good and Evil. Safe and Dangerous. As you venture through the world OSome have crafted, you can dissipate small areas of darkness with your matches, but these natural lights cannot dispel the forces hiding in the pitch black. Instead it only draws them to you. Each match lasts a variable amount of time, so on many occassions you will find yourself plunged into the shadows, and as the screams and wails of the apparitions increase, the controller shaking to the tune of your ragged breath, each misstrike of the match raising your tension palpably, and then nothing…as the match fails to ignite. These random misfortunes can see you tapping the ignite button frantically and if in a situation where one of the unholy apparitions is near can cause a cheap, but terror filled death. With only 12 matches in hand at any time, finding replacements is always at the forefront of your mind, and if you have been in the dark for any length of time during this game you too will feel the terror of realisation when you are striking your final match that you may be plunged into pitch at any moment.
These incidents, are made all the more potent by the way the spirits react. When you perceive the outline of one of these phantoms in the periphery of your match-light, their twitchy, ethereal movement give pause, and although they appear muddled and dazed, their jerky movement belies a speed and mania to avail you should you catch their attention. With no way to fight these creatures, you must run to the safety of any nearby electric light or find a way to bathe them in the light to dismiss them.
Sadly, although thematically the game is black and white, the gameplay itself is more shades of grey. The heavy use of Dutch angles to give it that true old school, noir feel bring with them the same problems that plagued the original Resident evils and Alone in the Dark. This is especially true when facing off against a group of patrolling spirits and resulted in numerous cheap deaths. With the save states being controlled by sitting in a specific set of chairs within certain rooms, this can mean losing a good deal of progress should this occur. It also resets any collectables you have managed to find in the interim. These too have their problems. While the monochromatic design is both fitting to the style and period setting of the game, it does have some issues. Firstly it masks what seems at times to be distinctly low resolution textures on the main character. Secondly, due to the lack of contrast of collectables with their surroundings, in a game where you can be punished for exploring too far off the beaten track, it can be quite galling to attempt to find all 150 of these items hidden throughout this rather short game.
These quibbles aside, I still thoroughly enjoyed the story overall, in particular the descent into madness and the occult of the current owner revealed through the games collectables, that pre-empted your arrival.
White Night managed to rekindle memories of when I was a teenager, playing the original Alone in the Dark, (in my opinion the true original horror game), on my uncle’s PC. With its oblique camera angles, pervading sense of tension imbued by the environment rather than the enemies you face, and minimalist combat, it appears to me that OSome Studio have crafted a perfect homage, intentional or not, to Infogrames seminal Lovecraftian game. I for one, welcome this return to a purer form of horror games.
MLG Rating: 7/10 Format: PlayStation 4/ Xbox One/ PC / Mac /Linux Release Date: Out Now
Disclosure: Midlife Gamer were provided a copy of White Night by the publisher for review purposes. The title was reviewed over the course of 1 week on a PlayStation 4. For more information on what our scores mean, plus details of our reviews policy, click here.