White Night Brings Stylish Noir Survival Horror

White Night is a stylish noir, survival horror, from French developer OSome Games. If Frank Miller remade Alone in the Dark, it would look like White Night, except the writing isn’t as good as Miller’s. This is a game that gets the tone and look so right, but won’t suit traditional survival horror fans.

It all begins on a stormy night in 1930s Boston. Our protagonist has crashing his car, while trying to avoid the ghostly apparition of a woman. Injured and with a hazy memory, he heads for a nearby house. Unfortunately, it’s the decaying, gothic mansion of the Vesper family. It looks abandoned, but all is not as it seems.

This spooky house looks welcoming enough
This spooky house looks welcoming enough

The story is central to White Night and our hero limps  through the house collecting various snippets of letters, diaries, photos and newspaper clippings pertaining to the Vesper family.  The dark rooms are filled with clutter and the shadows play tricks on you. A lamp looks like  figure at one angle or a tatter of curtain appears to be a hand and is that a body on the bed?

The idea of light and dark is also central, in terms of theme and gameplay. Without a source of light the character can’t do anything, but fortunately there are stashes of matches dotted around the house. The player is limited to 12 matches at a time, which adds a certain amount of tension, if you’re in a new part of the house and don’t know where the next replenishing point is.

Just a match lights your way for much of the game, adding tension
Just a match lights your way for much of the game, adding tension

There are moments of real panic, as down to three matches, you strike a couple that don’t light and then, finally, you can see again. Plunged into darkness, your character’s breathing quickens and the music sends your increases your heart rate, until panic takes hold and it’s game over.

In addition to the fear of the dark, the Vesper mansion is also haunted by the female ancestors. These blind spirits roam the hallways and if you get attacked it’s game over. They’re weakness is electric lighting and they can be avoided, if you leave the area or enter the light. As the game goes on, these ghosts just become a nuisance, rather than a threat.

White Night's fixed camera angles add atmosphere and sometimes frustration
White Night’s fixed camera angles add atmosphere and sometimes frustration.

The gameplay generally consists of fairly straightforward puzzles. While holding a match, some interactions are impossible. As a result mst rooms need exploring to find a source of electric light, which frees your hands and keeps the ghosts at bay.

Unfortunately, casa Vesper has some very dodgy electrics, so light switches often don’t work or you need to follow a lead to find the plug. Once the light is on, desk lamps can be swiveled to reveal clues or eviscerate ghosts.

There is quite a lot of twoing and froing in White Knight’s this haunted house tale, which can get annoying. Saves are operated by sitting in particular armchairs, which are dotted around the house. Unfortunately, they are few and far between. It’s easy to forget to save and then, just as you’re about to finish a puzzle, you bump into a ghost, which means you die and have to start the whole section again. It’s a lazy way of adding challenge, where there is none.

Detailed rooms hide many clues, if you have enough light
Detailed rooms hide many clues, if you have enough light.

Whilst White Knight looks stunning. It’s a stark black and white 3D environment, which lends itself to the noir setting and adds a sense of menace and claustrophobia. The fixed camera angles employ the German expressionist vibe of the likes of Citizen Kane to great effect. That is, until you have to run away.

White Night is billed as a survival horror, but it’s much more successful if you think of it as a walking adventure or interactive story. The fixed camera works well from a style standpoint, but frustrates once a quick response is needed. And the insta-death becomes particularly harsh, when forward is suddenly reversed, which sees you walk straight into a ghost.

For a game that places such an emphasis on story, I expected more from White Knight. The writing tries its best, but suffers from poor translation, I suspect. The slick similies one expects of noir are often clumsy and nonsensical here.

The house is littered with diary entries from various characters, by they don’t have distinct voices, even though one of them is Norwegian. Often, I had to check whose diary it was, because they all sounded the same. I was never convinced by his growing obsession with Selena and the “twist” at the end just fell flat, for me.

White Night is a gorgeous looking game that uses the theme of light and dark to great effect. It’s worth a play, just to soak up the intense, foreboding atmosphere. Unfortunately, the lack of a compelling story fails to support the limited gameplay, unless you love reading reams of back story. Survival horror fans will find a lack of jump scares and action to keep them interested, but others might find enough in the gothic noir setting.

That said, I’ll be looking out for more titles from OSome Games.

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