White Night harks back to a specific kind of survival horror experience that I thought was dead. It's a world of fixed cameras and dark corridors that restrict your vision, and endless back tracking to find inconspicuous items. It is a dated formula, but one that I am still very fond of – and White Night may be the best example of the genre since Silent Hill 2.
Alone in the dark
From the moment you start, White Night’s stunning black and white visual design is both atmospheric and unnerving – the perfect backdrop to the 1930s horror-noir world. Every element of its presentation builds on this, with menus playing discordant piano notes as you move between options, and the opening credits have you driving your flivver down an empty road illuminated only by your headlights.
It sets a chilling mood that is quickly capitalized on as you take the role of the trench coat wearing, fedora touting hero. After swerving to avoid a child that appears from nowhere, you roll from your car injured. These wounds set a slow initial pace, as you limp towards a deserted house. Searching for a way into the house you must scour the garden (by which I mean cemetery) for a key. It is a search that introduces you to the core gameplay of White Night: interact with everything, find hints, and work out what you must do to progress (which, in this, is shoving aside a statue to allow the moon’s light to reveal a key).
Things that go bump
But, while your ultimate goal is usually clear, seeing how to reach it is not. Once in the house you become engulfed by darkness, with only temperamental matches and occasional (even less reliable) electric lights to show the way. This leaves you fumbling your way forward under frequently pressured circumstances. The result is frustratingly long searches that have you constantly retrace your steps to find obscured items. At one point this saw me play for an hour just to find a light switch that I hadn't spotted due to the fixed perspectives. It's a known issue for the genre, but one made worse here due to the darkness and your fragility to the dangers that lurk within.
Roaming the claustrophobic hallways with you are malevolent spirits, whose origins are rooted in the house's grizzly past. Your only defense from these ghosts is to flee, or to trap them in the warming glow of electrical lights. Trying to spot these apparitions in the darkness is barely possible, forcing you to edge slowly forward to work out where they are hidden, and how close you can risk getting before they chase and (usually) kill you.
Herein lies White Night's final problem: its awful checkpoint and save system. To save your game you must sit in one of the game's arm chairs. This feels dated enough, but a lack of checkpoints compounds the issue, with deaths sending you back to the last time you rested.
Horror fans should not let these frustrations put them off. White Night is a visually stunning refinement of a genre that is rarely seen these days. Even more wonderful is the creepy, nuanced fiction it creates. From the smokey jazz tones that regularly drift through the house to collectibles that outline the history of its inhabitants, everything is designed to add richness and depth to this personal story.
Its handful of annoyances are a real pity because (when I wasn't feeling exasperated) I was enraptured by White Night’s atmosphere and story. With better checkpoints and some accurate guidance once in a while, this could have easily snuck on to my personal list of top ten games. Instead it stands as a flawed, but involving and visually enticing surprise.