Some games come around and just reek of one good idea. The chord of creativity hit theoretically hard enough to carry a full experience like a young and hopeful Sisyphus. What has happened with games like certain exploration-only titles (*cough* Dear Esther *cough*) is that the one-note hits and doesn’t vary enough to make waves. Yes, that is a physical reduction to the figurative, and it’s so very simply apt. You don’t want to flatline for multiple hours. You have to aim to make waves.
White Night is a game that aspires to make said waves through presentation and flair inside of a tense haunted house. You see the black and white aesthetic, you hear the protagonist’s gruff voice, and you feel the intruding darkness within the equation that’s supposed to equal a tense connection. The problem is that none of those parts themselves make waves. Thus, White Night is a game that is a woeful summary of its own parts.
Your playtime will be spent inside of the jacket and fedora of some gruff protagonist. No names nor even really a face lends any detail to this experience. Noir is clearly the aim as the Sin-City-like visuals very rarely gives you any you color outside of the binary palette, and is slammed home with the narration on a dark night. This all starts immediately and unapologetically. He just crashes his car on a rainy night, then he’s into the grand Vesper Mansion. That’s your lead-in.
The simplicity of this introduction isn’t a problem. I’m all for a game setting the table for a mystery, but there’s no real thread here beyond what has been seen and shown a million times. Creepy mansions have driven home prices to their lowest in 50 years across the country there are so damn many. To then just change the colors and call it fresh for a setting leads to a big miss on White Night’s biggest selling point.
Once inside, there is a single central mechanic: matches/light. White Night carries itself through hallways and doors with your book of matches as all that keep you safe. You’ll have a limited amount and you’ll constantly be looking for light switches to make rooms safe, shaping a simple, clear goal from one space to another. Matches burn out in about 3 minutes of game time so you will be flipping through them quickly if you don’t conserve these wooden sticks of life. Some tension comes into play as you have to budget between squinting and lighting the room just a bit more.
Exploration can be muddied in a good way with puzzles that manipulate the environment lightly with that simple goal of light always in mind. This is all done amidst an evil screamer lady that just plain hates visitors. That wandering specter doesn’t stay fresh immediately out of the package, which is unfortunate as the only real threat in the whole place. She’s just a screamer, a toucher, and a killer. That’s her M.O.
Story wise, White Night does not hold together well. It just feels so very surface with the strewn notes, the hallucinations (or are they!?), and even where the whole thing ends up. None of the ideas here are fresh or even washed, enhancing all the usual blemishes you’d ignore in a project with more clout. Spooks and creaks are present but the whole experience feels like a series of bullet points checked off with a gel pen.
My largest gripe and what pulls it down below the humdrum median is on a technical level. White Night has put me through a hard freeze/crash 3 separate times and immense loading times directly after death. Due to the fixed-camera angles and the very loose movement controls, that ol’ reaper will likely come as you drift around corners or can’t quite grab a door in time. To then have a full Switch restart on the docket feels like a meta-joke that my own existential crisis can’t handle.
Beyond that are some very blurry lines and uneven animations that don’t seem to go more than a few rooms without becoming jagged. There is also an inane, psychopathy-inducing grandfather clock that ticks for far, far too much of the early game. That’s a fairly small crack in this glass ball, sure, but that doesn’t make White Night feel any more welcoming in the end to the player.
White Night is a great demo that falls apart under greater scrutiny. Not just with expectations but in basic execution this game simply collapses under a creative boulder. To have a single gameplay aspect pull you forward with zeal is rare as hell, and the concept of a light in the dark just wasn’t taken to, ironically, dark enough spaces to keep the engrossment high. As the great comedian Harold Zoid once said, “Throw a pie, for god’s sake!”
White Night Score: