Striking. That was first word that popped into my head as White Night’s opening credits rolled. Your character – a detective – is driving a car at night along a winding road, while the credits, illuminated by your headlights, appear on road signs in your peripheral vision. A smooth sax-backed song plays on the radio with a hauntingly beautiful vocal track, while the scenery is draped in stark black and white. It’s an almost dreamy, relaxing experience right up until the moment your car swerves to avoid a shape in the middle of the road and crashes. From that point, you find yourself at an old mansion with seemingly nobody home. Here begins a tale of ghosts and the mystery behind them.
White Night proudly models itself after classical survival horror greats. Resident Evil (creepy mansion), Fatal Frame (scaring away ghosts) and Alone In The Dark (a bunch of stuff) are the clearest influences, but outside survival horror there is a slight adventure game feel to proceedings thanks to the 1930’s noir setting and main protagonist. The noir feel is best represented by that monochromatic visual style, which is highly impactful, not just to look at but also because it plays heavily into the game’s themes of darkness and light. Certain puzzles and areas are affected by creating light sources. Be it pushing a statue to reveal a key previously hidden in shadow or finding ways to get some electricity for the table lamps needed to activate save areas, light is highly important in White Night as the mansion clearly had a half-arsed electrician work on it. Almost nothing works and any light source that does is stuck in disco mode. As a game feature, it does the job of creating a spooky atmosphere in a simple yet perfect way because it’s used so effectively in conjunction with the black and white contrasts of the visual design.
The dark hides more than just puzzles though. There are ghosts in this house and not all of them are particularly happy about your arrival. All of them are quite bothered by the lights being on though, so the light soon becomes a weapon. With so few light sources around the job often falls to your trusty book of matches to keep the apparitions at bay. Each match gives you around a minute of light to search around in the pitch black, and when one goes out the creeping sense of dread builds as you fumble to light the next. Even those few seconds of blindness could allow something to get that little bit closer to you, the knowing feeling that a single touch will be enough to leave you dead; at least that’s what it makes you think. Again, this is superbly done. If there were awards for inducing creeping dread then this would be a hot contender.
It’s sad then that the creepy, unsettling build never reaches a real crescendo of terror. One or two moments may cause you to jump in your seat a little, but that’s mainly because the camera angle switches at just the wrong moment and leaves you exasperated by your insta-death. Other than that it’s all foreplay with no payoff. This means it ends up failing somewhat as a horror and – with the puzzles generally being either fairly standard or plain frustrating thanks to some poorly implemented sections and the aforementioned camera issue – the game starts to fall apart the further you delve into it. It does have the 1930’s gumshoe act to fall back on however, and that means White Night is an intriguing curio rather than an abject failure. The story is told mostly by the various notes and journals kept around in dark recesses of the mansion and, with the help of the great visual style, it manages to be engrossing enough that you can forgive the game for its foibles and push on till the credits roll.
There are some really good ideas on show in White Night. But you wonder if most of them would have been better suited to an out and out detective game rather than a survival horror hybrid. There are enough interesting and fairly unique parts to the game to warrant the attention of anyone who loves a bit of old-school adventure and/or noir detective films/books, but horror fans will be left sadly unsatisfied, despite a promising start.