Of all the efforts to revive survival horror, few have gotten it right. A game has to scare the crap out of you, after all, but still be playable. White Night, from new developer OSome Studio, manages to deliver both, using a unique graphical style and a simple mechanic to deliver a compelling experience… despite a few missteps.
The setup is quite simple: You’re a private investigator in 1938 Boston who crashes his car in front of the Vesper mansion. You need a little help, so you go into the creepy, dark mansion and promptly discover that was a terrible idea.
Mostly this game’s gotten attention for its stylish graphics, with sharp black and white. But it’s not just a style choice, but rather it’s tightly integrated with the game’s mechanics. To solve puzzles and not be murdered by ghosts, you need light. Matches will let you see some of the environment, but only electric light will drive away the ghosts for good. Thus the puzzles revolve around getting enough light both to work by and to keep from getting killed… and needless to say, your matches are in short supply and eventually go out. Here’s a good look at how it works, from early in the game.
All the survival horror touches are here and well-implemented: You’ve got limited resources to manage, when you see a ghost your options boil down to “run away,” and you can only save at specific armchairs that have enough light around them for you to rest safely. In the playing, it’s a tense experience, especially as the game is constantly shifting what’s safe and what isn’t as you finish puzzles and advance through the Vesper mansion.
Good thing, too, because while the game is littered with collectibles to allow you to piece together what’s going on, you won’t have to read much of the story to see where this is going. Also, the old-school nature is both for better and for worse; hope you like fixed camera angles and backtracking! Furthermore, the context sensitivity for actions can be awful, and when combined with the camera, there are moments where you can find yourself trying to pick something up as the camera jumps around and the prompt vanishes.
The final factor is that it’s largely a one and done experience: Once you know how to solve the puzzles, there’s not much reason to return to the Vesper mansion unless you want to collect the multitude of news articles, journal entries, photographs, and other stuff lying around. Still, it’s a solid six hours or so, and honestly, at $15, it’s more than creative enough in its gameplay, and tense enough in the playing, to make it a treat for horror fans.