The year is 1938; the economic tsunami that is the Great Depression is sweeping over America and late one night a man finds himself driving home from a local bar, located on the outskirts of Boston. As he crosses over a bridge at a steady pace in his automobile, a ghostly silhouette of a girl walks out, leaving the man with no option but to veer off into a ditch in order to avoid colliding with her. When finally regaining consciousness, the man realises he is outside an eerie mansion in severe pain and in desperate need of help. This is the opening act of White Night.
If this premise sounds cliché for an adventure puzzle game featuring elements of survival horror, that’s because it is. Between the story and gameplay, White Night is rather formulaic. The obvious difference here, when compared to other titles under the same banner, is the bold visual direction. The black and white film noir aesthetics are what the game is built around. From the beginning, this art style does a good job representing the era the story is set in, even if it doesn't necessarily reinvent the graphical wheel.
Starting outside the lonely mansion, you’re taught how to inspect your surroundings, including how to interact with individual objects and also access the local newspaper – which is basically used in this context as a hint section recapping anything noteworthy. There’s also some world building with the paper making reference to relevant topics of the time. Shortly after learning the basics, you’re sent on your first key recovery quest, which requires you to push aside a statue in a graveyard so you can open the front doors of the creepy house your character is so desperate to gain entry to.
It’s from here the drama escalates. Upon entry, you learn how to light the limited amount of matches at your disposal to prevent the darkness from smothering the protagonist altogether, all while searching the surroundings for any useful objects or clues about your location and the whereabouts of the residents. Eventually, you find switches and other sources of light including fireplaces, but not all rooms are like this – meaning you'll need a sufficient amount of matches on you at all times. If you don’t have light, it’s game over. This mechanic adds an extra dimension to the gameplay, but it’s not necessarily one that hasn’t been done before.
As you progress, you’ll encounter objects that must be interacted with at a closer proximity under match light. There are also symbols to take note of, along with letters and notes written by family members of the house as well as paintings on display that link to bigger mysteries. Encountering apparitions becomes more common over time, with these supernatural spirits posing a threat to your existence. If you need a moment to catch your breath, there are rest areas in the mansion acting as save points. It’s very much rinse and repeat, with the main requirements to piece together information with the items, objects and clues you uncover – enabling you to move the story along. Again, even with the odd twist and scare, it’s nothing new, but what is there in terms of puzzling is at least skilfully strung together when you aren’t fumbling about in the dark because of the art style.
The atmosphere is arguably another standout trait alongside the visuals. From the minute you enter the house, there are plenty of noises like ringing bells to hooting owls and the sound of thunder outside. The constant bumps in the dark certainly make you feel like you are within the presence of supernatural forces. The stylish jazz from time to time is easy to associate with the era the game takes place in. Unfortunately, what removes you from the experience a lot of the time is the dialogue. The character will often spout silly lines about how he just had to enter a particular dark or dangerous location. On the plus side, there’s voice acting and enough constructive tips to make you forgive him for his other comments.
The film noir aesthetics might be reminiscent of the Wii exclusive MadWorld (minus the blood), however, the fixed camera angles and sluggish character movement more closely resembles a classic Resident Evil title. The fixed camera shots have a tendency to create problems when you’re moving the character about, and can also completely disorientate you when you move from one area (or room) to another. The way these angles are aimed, doesn’t always make solving certain puzzles the easiest – with thorough checks of each area required because of this design choice and the black and white visuals. A dynamic camera would have been the more functional option. Loading sequences are also quite lengthy at times. Fortunately, there are few of them.
White Night does serve up some scares and a few twists along the way, however, there’s nothing particularly different about what this title has to offer over only a handful of hours, even with consideration of the black and white film noir aesthetics including the special mechanics built around it. Despite its eagerness to run with clichés, it at least sticks with its style through to the end and does everything competently enough to make it a satisfactory experience for anyone looking for a colourless curio.