Spirits and souls with no substance.
It would be easy to say that White Night is bad because it's no fun — but the gameplay is the worst part of this otherwise incredible package. In the past, I've let substandard gameplay slide in favour of incredible art, sound, and story. With White Night, however, the manner in which you interact with the game is so fundamentally annoying and intrusive that it obstructs the mood and detracts from the incredible melancholy jazz vocals or the tense story peaks or whatever else happens to be going on at the time. It fills me with overwhelming disappointment, because without the action elements that persist throughout, White Night could have easily been something special.
White Night is an adventure game with a black-and-white (not grayscale) Film Noir art style where you play as a detective who seeks refuge in a dark mansion one night after a drunken car crash. As you can imagine, there is heavy integration of light and darkness in the gameplay that is used creatively enough at times. The game relies on the classic item-solving puzzle system that defines the adventure game genre but adds a new twist: it also happens to be a narratively driven survival-horror with action sequences peppered throughout. Unfortunately, White Night never comes to terms with its identity crisis, failing to integrate these genres into a cohesive experience. The result is a game that is exceedingly annoying to play.
The game encourages exploration in its opening chapter and a half as the shambling protagonist learns to interact with the environment. After that you are also introduced to the idea that you're going to be reading a lot of collectible diaries and newspapers throughout this dark quest. Seemingly every interaction prompts a ticker in the top right of the screen. 1/60. 1/15. 1/24. In all there are about 120 collectible entries and the lack of voice-over means that each is going to be read in a pause menu over a background with far too much detail. To its credit, the written text in this game tells a fantastic story of an upper class family during the depression and how they are slowly driven to madness.
The art style, story, and music all create an incredible moody environment that over time generates a great horror that is far more interesting and unique than the fear of “I hope I don't Game Over or I'll have to replay that dreadful room again.” A sentiment which the player is forced to revisit far too consistently. It's so unnecessary and obviously annoying that I wonder how no one who played this game before release ever brought it up. What's even more infuriating is that at times there are static ghosts that block paths and cause the screen to shake when you near them. Those moments when you near a static ghost to grab a collectible or to hit a switch are exhilarating and should have been more than enough to enforce the ghastly mood without the need to fill rooms and hallways with moving ghost patrols or instilling the fear of dying as a gameplay mechanic. The ghost patrols are forced-stealth-one-shot-kill game mechanics in a game that by design uses fixed camera angles that change without warning often in the middle of a chase sequence. I can't think of a more obviously annoying mechanic.
There is so much to love about this game but I could never really get past the fact that it is incredibly obnoxious and irritating to actually play through. More than once in my 7-8 hour romp through the story I was faced with a Game Over screen that meant I was repeating 15-20 minutes of already-cumbersome gameplay. The game initially fosters a sense of exploration and clearly wants the player to engage in the near innumerable diaries that litter every room. Very quickly, however, the punishing nature of the action mechanic makes itself apparent as ghosts and apparitions begin to patrol about. One touch from these distorted figures causes the detective to go mad. I don’t blame him — this kind of aggravating design is simply unacceptable.
- It's really too bad that the diary ticker compelled me to run around mashing the examine button rather than allowing me to explore and focus on the story/ambiance.
- I'm a patient man, but losing 20 minutes of progress to one ghost after another is agonizing.
- "This cutscene is AMAZING ... oh, hold on? More ghosts." - Me
- At least now Raph doesn't have to play through all of this.