After hitting someone with your car, crashing into a tree, and wandering into a nearest house without permission, it should be of little surprise things continue to go poorly in White Night.
White Night quietly arrived on Xbox One, PlayStation 4, and PC from development studio OSome this week. I had to investigate.
The game opens with your character injuring themselves and seeking medical attention just off the road. It's clear this house is not what we'd call "normal," what with the random graveyard out front and the creepy symbols etched into the surrounding trees. There's evidence the place has recently been occupied, yet no one's around. Since White Night's set around the Great Depression and cell phones aren't a thing yet, you head inside and, well, hope for the best.
Hoping for the best is not usually a sound strategy in any horror story, however.
For a while, though, you're likely to simply admire the visuals. Plenty of other games have dabbled in stark contrasts and minimal color palettes, but the way White Night dynamically shifts between black and white is particularly striking. While I played the first hour of White Night, I thought about MadWorld, Sega's sadly underrated, QTE-heavy action game for Wii.
Sometimes bold aesthetic choices are simply a way to stand out from the crowd, but used properly, games can find ways to make their artistic choices enhance the game design. This is what White Night does so well. The black/white/light/dark look isn't merely to convey mood or look cool, but it reinforces the very basic gameplay mechanics that drive what you're doing.
Upon entering the house, it becomes clear the electricity is a little wonky here. Fortunately for you, there happen to be plenty of matches just lying around. These matches allow you to create a small circle of light around you, which is useful for seeing what items, documents, and other curiosities are hidden around you, in addition to fending off what's hiding in the dark. Pretty quickly, it becomes apparent this house is haunted by ghosts both friendly and angry. When exposed to light, however, even the most disgruntled ghosts will waltz away for a little while.
This drives tension in White Night. To learn about the story, discover new doors, and find light switches, it requires venturing into the dark. After a minute or so, your match will go out. It doesn't take long to light another one, but for a moment, there's total darkness. It's an eerie feeling, and I found myself yelling at my character to light his match a little faster. I learned my lesson about demanding too much from him, though, as the same button that lights matches will also put them out, a move deployed when two hands are needed to open certain objects.
You don't want to find yourself in the dark and without a match, either. Bad stuff happens. The music goes straight to 11, the screen distorts, and your character suddenly can't walk straight.
Though I'd classify White Night as a horror game, it deals more with building tension than outright scares. Five Nights at Freddy's is a game designed around the jump scare, wherein a large image is closely paired with a loud noise to surprise you. White Night has jump scares, but it doesn't exclusively traffic in them, choosing to carefully dole them out and make it count.
I'm a bit torn on the matches, though. While it certainly makes my palms sweat, there are hundreds of objects to collect in White Night--photos, diaries, newspaper clippings, more! They're not required to beat the game, but White Night is otherwise pretty simple, so the story is important. Given that, it's a bit frustrating to have the game punishing you for doing the very thing it wants, and it mostly pushes me in a direction of progressing, rather than exploring. If the alternative is a stress-free game in which the ghosts merely go "boo!' from a distance, perhaps this is a necessary compromise that's meant to provide a sense of risk and reward.
Color me intrigued, White Night! In a month where not much else is going on, it's nice to have something genuinely different to play around with. I'm looking forward to finding out the heck is happening in this mansion, even if it takes me hundreds of burnt matches to reach the end.
Oh! If you'd like to watch a grown man shriek while exploring this mansion, I'm here to help:
You can reach the author of this post at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @patrickklepek.