White Night Review – The Light of a Full Moon

White Night Review – The Light of a Full Moon

I played through White Night twice on the PS4 and didn’t run into any problems. Other versions may differ.

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I have never made any attempt to hide that survival horror is my all-time favourite game genre. And why should I, right? It’s not as if the genre has crumbled over the years, falling away into utter rubbish like Silent Hill: Homecoming and Silent Hill: Book of Memories and Silent Hill: Downpour and Resident Evil: All About The Action QTE fest. Oh wait, my sarcasm meter is going through the roof, because that is exactly what has happened. My beloved genre has imploded before my eyes and I have to admit that it hurts. It really hurts.

Survival horror doesn’t really exist anymore. At least not in any playable way. And though there are a few more recent examples of fantastic survival horror (Lone Survivor, Siren, Fatal Frame and, to a lesser extent, P.T.), it seems like the genre’s all but dead. In strides White Night with a whimper and not a bang. I literally found this game while I was scrolling through the PSN store. It has had zero marketing (apart from being on an Access store update video one time) and although the striking visuals may be enough to entice people, the high price point will probably drive people away.

So, right about now you’re probably thinking that I’m here to tell you what an undiscovered gem this is, and you should go and download it straight away for some survival horror goodness, right? Well, not really. You see, it is hard to muster up any strong emotion for White Night. It’s not particularly horrible, but it’s not particularly good either. It’s just fine.

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White Night is deeply influenced by Noir, with a total black and white art style. When it’s dark, it’s truly pitch black. Light is your friend, because in the light monsters can’t get you, and actually more importantly, you can see where you’re going. White Night takes place when your character, a grizzled Noir detective type, runs his car off the road and finds himself at the mercy of an old-school survival horror mansion. As he enters the mansion, he is haunted by the ghost of a woman, who clearly needs the guy’s help to release her restless spirit. He has to navigate the mansion, and a lot of hostile ghosts, armed only with a book of matches, to uncover the secrets of this woman’s ghost.

It sounds pretty damn good, but the whole thing never totally comes together. The set-up is great, but the twists and turns of the plot are so cookie cutter, I had worked out the entire thing in the first ten minutes. You could probably work out the twist from just reading the above paragraph again and bearing in mind the tropes of noir and games like Silent Hill. It’s just one of the aspects that is, as I said before, ‘fine’.

The gameplay echoes this sentiment as well. You have to navigate the dark with your matches, and this feels great to start with. You have a limited amount of your light source and you have to weigh up whether to explore the next dark room and hope to find more matches, or cower in the light of your safe room. Of course, the genius of survival horror is that the path is forward and you have to do it, and you’re going to do it to advance. That illusion of safety is what the genre’s all about. Venturing into the unknown is something White Night does do quite well.

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A lot of that is to do with that black and white art style. Darkness feels truly absolute and your scraping around to find a match does invoke the right feelings. However, the dark also masks one of White Night’s true flaws. A pick that unravels the whole thing. I would not so much call White Night a survival horror, as a survival frustration. I never truly felt scared in White Night, but I did feel like throwing my controller out the bloody window quite a bit.

The ghosts. I am talking about the ghosts that come for you in the dark. But more the ones that are dotted about in dimly lit areas as well. Whenever a ghost sees you, they will chase. Your guy will flail his arms about. Your light may well go out. So then you’re running, trying to light another match, while hoping to get to that doorway you think is somewhere over that way? It’s okay the first time, hell it’s okay the fifth time. But soon enough, these encounters start to become annoying. There seems to be an element of randomness about when a ghost will see you, and it’s never truly defined about where it looks or how far it can see. Often, you’ll trigger these chases seemingly at random and even though it’s not really unfair, it can definitely feel that way. Also the fact that your light almost always goes out is fine, but there’s so many things in the environment you can get caught up on, you’ll find yourself dying to an ottoman more times than you’ll like to admit. The old school save system of no checkpoints is great, but not when these frustrating encounters occur. Doing the same bit over and over is fine, if you’re having fun. Unfortunately I wasn’t.

The fun for me came from exploring the mansion, finding diary entries and newspapers. I enjoyed piecing the story together, no matter how thin and predictable it was. There was some depth to the diary entries of the people who had lived in the house which was great and had me thinking of Resident Evil 1 a lot.

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There are a few great mechanics in White Night. The limited supply of matches does always have you on edge, if not ever truly spiralling into sheer horror. The saving system is good for fans of typewriters and red squares. There is also a great little mechanic where the moon will change depending on what time in the month you are playing the game. When I played there was a crescent moon, when you play it would be different. That’s a great little touch, but it is never used. Like never at all. The only small thing is that it’s tied to a trophy where you complete the game 100% on the night of a full moon. That’s it.

White Night is interesting, and it feels like it should be better than it is. It feels like there is a great game there, locked up inside a truly mediocre one. It doesn’t reach the heights of survival horror greatness but it’s not exactly scraping along the bottom either. And I go back to my original analysis. White Night is ‘fine’. Whether that is enough to justify a purchase or true gaming damnation, I will leave up to you.

 

White Night gets a 2/5

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