White Night review

White Night review
White Night review

Classics endure the test of time, with good reason. We’ve seen successful supernatural thrillers set in abandoned hospitals and asylums, creepy warehouses and underground bunkers, dilapidated ghost towns and Japanese villages. But nothing beats the classic haunted house, when done right. Enter OSome Studio’s thriller White Night, which will ensnare players in its gothic mansion’s hallways by walking a fine line between simple survival gameplay and stylish noir presentation, and does so with only a few hiccups along the way.

The year is 1938. The Great Depression has ravaged America for the past decade. Black Lake, a suburb outside of Boston, has also had to contend with a string of disappearances; women abducted by a creature dubbed the Wolf of Black Lake. While taking a nighttime drive on an abandoned stretch of road, a car swerves to avoid a pedestrian who suddenly appears in the middle of the street, and instead crashes into a tree. The driver, a man sunk deep within the upturned collar of his trademark trench coat, fedora pulled low over his brow, manages to get out and is in need of medical attention. Across the street, the dark and silent Vesper mansion, home to a family of tycoons, appears empty and abandoned. All he needs is a phone to call for help. But what he’ll find in the shadows inside is a lot more than he bargained for.

The setup is nothing new, and is reminiscent of the Alone in the Dark series, one of the developer's cited influences. The mansion’s backstory, spanning several decades, is revealed by collecting and piecing together scattered documents: journals, letters, newspaper articles, photographs, and diaries slowly tell the disturbing history of the three members of the Vesper family, patriarch Henry, wife Margaret, and son and heir William. Frustratingly, these artifacts aren’t found in chronological order, and I was nearly halfway through the game before I started getting a clear image of how the people and events fit together. Though the developers have taken pains to weave in reminders of the Depression-era setting, with frequent references to the political and economic climate of the times, I found that it ultimately didn’t have much impact on the problem at hand – simple survival – and it felt a little forced.

White Night blends survival horror and adventure, though with an emphasis on the former. To progress through the mansion you will have to find certain items: keys to open doors, light bulbs to illuminate rooms, tools to bypass obstacles. There are only two actual puzzles that I recall, requiring figuring out how to operate mechanisms to progress. Even then, though I searched for clues and a logical way to solve them, in the end they came down to just pushing buttons and stepping on switches randomly until something went “click”. Meanwhile, the ghosts inhabiting Vesper mansion are an always-present threat, and most will give chase if approached. Getting lost in the suffocating darkness is just as deadly. Matches found scattered throughout the mansion will give you a small degree of respite from the dark, but should they extinguish or your supply run out, panic will slowly creep up on you, and you must find an oasis of light immediately or be snuffed out by the shadows hiding in the dark.

The horror elements in White Night are surprisingly effective, and tap into man’s primal fear of the dark. Should your light go out, your breathing will grow labored and the screen will begin to shake. Meanwhile, you’ll hear a menacing drumbeat approaching from the distance and progressively growing louder, increasing terror until it becomes too much and you die of fright. It’s the dread of what you can’t see, what you think is lurking in the dark that makes the game so frightening.

For reasons you’ll unearth as you dig through the Vesper family’s sordid history, the mansion has long been haunted by a vengeful spirit, a shrieking shade stalking the halls and rooms. (It’s not entirely clear whether she’s the only nefarious specter in the mansion, or if there are other unfortunate souls trapped there as well.) Her ghostly appearances come in one of two varieties: sometimes stationary, usually blocking access to a door, sometimes prowling unnervingly back and forth in a particular area. In either case, get too close to her, and she will rush toward you, giving you no more than a split second to turn and flee before she gets too close and it’s game over. She generally won’t go out of her way to hunt you down, as her eyesight has faded and she can’t see very well, but once she’s sensed you, you have no choice but to run for your life. When circumnavigating her isn’t an option and you need to clear a path through instead, the only means at your disposal is to shine a powerful light on her (candlelight and matches won’t do here), disintegrating her on the spot. But go easy on the celebrations – the next ghostly apparition is likely waiting just around the corner.

White Night is not a point-and-click game. In fact, there’s no use of the mouse outside of menus. Movement is handled via the arrow keys, which generally works well enough. Objects can be interacted with using the Space bar, while the Enter button ignites a new match from your stash (and snuffs it out again with a double press). My only real gripe is the button assigned for toggling between walking and running, as it’s awkwardly positioned on the same side of the keyboard as the other commands; I would have preferred an option to remap controls, or at least spreading commands across the keyboard instead of crowding everything together. The game does support gamepad connectivity, which seems like a more natural fit for the real-time movement and chase sequences.

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