Survival horror isn’t fun when you don’t have a chance at survival.
White Night is a black and white (and one flame’s worth of orange) noir horror game about a guy who gets trapped in a history-filled haunted house, that he must then traverse in complete darkness with nothing more than a small flame from his collection of matches. The premise is basically, if you’re in the darkness you’re dead, if you have a match you’re still potentially screwed, and if you’re in one of the rare electrically lit safe havens you live to see another minute.
Herein lies the first issue with White Night: ninety-five percent of the time you are in pitch black with nothing but your little match flame to guide you. And keep in mind you have NO defenses against the poltergeists roaming the house, and they move quickly, one could argue faster than the player’s character himself. So this is what ends up happening: you fumble about in dark around rooms strewn with furniture all over the floor, looking for some mundane object to open the next room with, when you see a weird apparition appear across the room. “Well shit,” you might reasonably think to yourself, “time to get the hell out of Dodge,” right? Too bad, you can’t. Your little flame provides nowhere near enough light to successfully maneuver around the haphazardly laid-out rooms, meaning you’ll be hitting invisible chair textures while the ghost rushes in on you. This problem is aggravated by the egregious camera White Night features; it sports the sole purpose of providing ridiculous angles that no player could reasonably hope to make consistent escapes with. THEN comes the save system, which is the icing on this poorly constructed cake. You have to sit in cozy little chairs to save, chairs that are only available to sit in if you’ve successfully lit the area near them. Now, considering the issues I’ve mentioned above with fulfilling objectives such as lighting areas because of the cheap as hell AI ghosts, the whole summation of the gameplay can be boiled down to two words: tedium and frustration. The puzzles are trivial, at best, and given how plodding and painstakingly awkward the basic movement is (mainly due to the camera and counterproductive level layout), it’s just not worth it.
On a positive note, the art style is nice. Watch a playthrough or something, if you’re desperate for some of the experience. Hell, click here to watch MY playthrough of it, since I recorded the first three hours and will be uploading them periodically over the next few days. But that should quench any desire you have to play it yourself, as it is just fun to look at, not to play. And I mean that sincerely, not because I rage quit halfway through because of the out of control AI.
-Gorgeous and minimal art style
-Eerie piano soundtrack
-Enjoyable enough story
-Solid concept (contrast of white and black)
-Level design that does not complement the gameplay
-Camera is trash
-AI are too fast, especially given their one-hit-kill nature
-No defenses whatsoever for the player
-Gameplay is plodding and tedious
Here’s the thing. I hate horror games, yet am compelled to play them. Alan Wake? Took me months to finish it, but I did it and reveled in the feeling of conquering it. Same goes for Alien: Isolation. Hell, even Murdered: Soul Suspect kind of fits the bill. But why could I stomach all those games and not this one? I mean, they’re all similar to White Night. Alan Wake depended on light, just as this game does. Alien: Isolation had a one-hit-kill super-fast AI, another trait shared by this game. Murdered featured evil floating poltergeists and an abundance of collectibles, right in league with this game. But what those aforementioned titles have that White Night doesn’t are solid camera systems, good level designs and skill-based gameplay, rather than trial-and-error subjective AI rubbish that hinges on you getting a decent camera angle to succeed. At first I thought the issue was that the game gave you no means to defend yourself, but, when I really look back on White Night, that was part of its charm. Charm that was quickly eroded by the fundamental issues with its design.