White Night was released last Wednesday for PlayStation, created by French studio Osome and published by Activision, one of their rare forays in to the indie world. It stars an unnamed protagonist who stumbles into an spooky mansion, once the home of Henry and Margaret Vesper, their son William, and the mysterious Selena, a jazz singer at a local bar. Set in 1930’s Boston our man – and some of the now absent household – have a drinking problem and, along with with our hero’s Fedora and the dated furniture the scene is set for a Noir film thriller, but the game is more like a black and white version of the Paranormal Activity films.
The unique selling point – the black and white graphics – can look gorgeous, almost as if a monochromatic Frank Miller graphic novel was playing on screen. It’s a great idea but in certain areas the screen can become a confusing mess as it’s incredibly hard to work out what you are looking at. I think given a smaller screen on the PC version you would be able see things more clearly, but blown up to 52″ on my PS4 the jagged lines and basic polygons can detract from rather than enhance the atmosphere; White Night is just crying out for some anti-aliasing filters.
The behatted hero is defined quite well but the love interest of the game, the ghostly Selena, has about as many polygons as the characters in a budget PS2 game. Quite how we’re supposed to find her attractive when she’s so blocky is puzzling, and there’s absolutely no reason she couldn’t have looked beautiful.
The script attempts to emulate classic Noir thrillers but most of time comes across as ludicrous rather than atmospheric. Our hero has a habit of spouting ridiculous metaphors such as “I tried to collect my thoughts, but the intense pain was scattering them like a bunch of dead birds”, and when trying a locked door, “This is what the night looked like. Limited perspective, as closed as this door”.
To create a sense of tension and forboding the game cripples you from the start which results in one of the most tedious and laborious sequences you will ever play as our hero crashes his car and as a result, can only limp slowly across the screen. It’s a terrible section of game design, as you want to jump right in to the story, not have to spend ten minutes limping across a dull garden to search for a key. You will continue to limp inside the house until you reach a save point, one of the armchairs scattered through the building, which must be used with tedious frequency as the check points are few and far between.
If you die – which you will, a lot – you go back to your last save, possibly losing a good fifteen to twenty minutes of puzzle solving which then has to be repeated. Logic is often thrown out of the window, quite literally as at no point does out hero think of smashing any of the windows of the house to escape, and there must be hundreds of pointless objects – paintings, wardrobes – that have an icon allowing you to investigate their utter worthlessness.
The puzzles themselves mostly rely on light, the only thing that can kill the spirits that haunt the house. You may have to switch on a lamp, or find logs to start a fire, but they are all rather simple, but due to the black and white graphics working out what a log looks like is frustrating, I spent a good twenty minutes hunting for a final piece of wood and it was pretty much in front of the fire. As large sections of the house are in darkness you also have to keep striking a constant supply of matches to light your path.
This is an utterly pointless mechanic simply because there are so many of them scattered around the rooms that you’re never in danger of running out – pressing circle to light a new one every minute or so becomes tiresome rather than tense. Also for reasons that baffle logic, you can only hold twelve matches at once. You character has a trenchcoat, he could hold 300 matches and still have room for a sandwich. It would have been much better to give him a torch and bin the match mechanic and the accompanying instant death that occurs if you do ever run out.
Obviously inspired by the likes of the original Resident Evil and Silent Hill games, White Night has tried to emulate their successes but has also included many of their failures. Ghosts that patrol the rooms appear in random places at every restart and in later sequences there are huge rooms with multiple ghosts that means it takes many, many tries to navigate your way across. If you do manage to spot a spectre the game will try and scare you with a loud ‘thump’ sound effect and then your character runs, well flounces, away from the ghost.
It’s here the artistic camera angles, which can produce some striking images, become your downfall as there are multiple static camera angles for each room. Running will change the perspective every second or two so a mad dash way from a ghostly figure usually results in disorientation and our hero ploughing headlong into the arms of another spirit, and it’s back to the last save point from ten minutes ago.
There is a good game struggling to escape out of White Night, some graphical filters, a torch, a good bit of script editing and cutting out 50% of the clickable paintings would have improved it no end and cut out the tedium. Sadly that is not what French developer Osome Studios have produced. It can look and sound stunning in places but the insistence on artistic camera angles, pointless mechanics and horrendous checkpoints means that the game is as dated as its setting, which is terrible shame.