A while ago I wrote an editorial reflecting upon the emerging trend of video games partaking in the literary Gothic tradition. The conclusion of this piece stated that this trend is exciting because the most successful Gothic video games will not only complicate and add depth to their storytelling, but also their gameplay mechanics and systems. This is because of the inherent complexity of the narrative and thematic elements of the literary Gothic tradition, that video games would incorporate these defining characteristics of the Gothic to further develop their unique interactive nature.
White Night, the debut title from newcomer OSome Studio, is one of the most recent titles which borrows many elements of its fundamental identity directly from the literary Gothic tradition. Everything from its setting, narrative, characters, and thematic elements reek of the Gothic influence. White Night faithfully renders most of the generic conventions of the Gothic tradition quite well, but it fails to create an interactive experience that does its video game context proper justice.
Everything begins quite strong in White Night. You play as a nameless male protagonist who wakes up in a crashed car, whose only memories are of hitting a ghostly female figure. Injured from the accident, the man seeks shelter in a strangely familiar manor, before being forcibly locked inside by the spirit of the estate itself. The man must try and piece together what is going on, who the woman on the road is, and most importantly, who he is as he battles the darkness.
The sentient haunted house is a easily identifiable tropes of the Gothic genre, and that's not the only thematic element that is explored and realized in White Night. Everything from the unreliable protagonist, violence against women, the supernatural, insanity, the nature of reality, and more are all thoroughly rendered in White Night, if perhaps a tad too faithful. White Night does the most unfortunate thing any genre piece can do, which is to fail to add anything meaningful in the great discussion of universal works within the genre. While its devotion to tradition is noteworthy, it's too close to the source material to do anything with it.
It's hard to be overly critical of the narrative of White Night as it is well-written, but anyone with the slightest amount of experience with the literary Gothic will immediately begin to identify upcoming twists and turns of the narrative. Even the ultimate conclusion at the end was clear to see, does ultimately unsatisfying. And with a confusing and unsatisfactory ending sequence, White Night even fails to thoroughly realize its literary Gothic aspirations.
Even its framework as an interactive experience is dodgy. Primarily the game is equivalent of a 3D adventure game with survival game elements at work. You move your character around the haunted manor, solving environmental puzzles, picking up written logs, and bringing light to the darkness. You'll collect matches in the establishment, which feeds directly into the main gameplay system at work in White Night: light versus the darkness.
If you spend too long in the darkness your character will go mad and die. Indeed, while in darkness he can't interact with the world at all. A lit match solves both of these problems, staving off both encroaching insanity and allowing him to manipulate the environment. But there are certain objects in the game world which the protagonist will require both hands free, so the challenge then becomes working with the house's tricky electrical system to light objects up so you can then interact with them. Working with the electric lightning is also important because it's the only force in the game which can allow you to dispel the wandering evil aspirations that patrol the house.
Indeed, these dark spirits quickly become the biggest criticism to level at White Night. This is because when the game is a pure puzzle experience is when White Night is at its best. But when the enemies start showing up is when things start falling apart. About a third of the way through the game, White Night starts throws hordes upon hordes of these specters at you. Suddenly it hit me: White Night became a stealth game.
The problem with this transformation is twofold: firstly you have practically zero tools to help you in engaging with or navigating around them, and secondly the AI of the ghosts is random and unscripted which could royally screw you over if RNGesus decides to punish you for your sins. This nonexistent tool-set and unpredictable enemy behavior caused me to walk away from the game quite frequently frustrated. This more stealth-like experience taints a large majority of the game, which left the most bitterest of tastes in my mouth when finishing White Night.
All of this is unfortunate because the universal production design of White Night is quite strong. The harsh black-and-white art style is quite tastefully well-done, giving you a gorgeous environment to explore. More importantly the art style enhances the light-and-dark survival mechanic of the game as it helps clearly define what areas are lit-up or what is shrouded in darkness. It's not totally perfect as the polygonal models can be quite rough up close, ruining some of the more of the cinematic moments in the game. But generally with the game's controlled camera angles and OSome Studios' keen eye for fixed camera positions, White Night is a beautiful game to explore.
In addition to its artistic prowess, White Night has some of the strongest audio design of the year as well. It's hard nowadays to get too worked-up over the sound effect design of survival horror games, but White Night separates itself with strong ambient sounds which bring the haunted house to life in a darkly sentient way which constantly spooked me. The soundtrack is also incredibly strong, with a sleek combination of the 1930s jazz-era music popular in America at the time and traditional horror scores to create something unique and quite engaging. Some of the most memorable sequences in White Night are directly credited to the excellent tracks picked for such sections. And when combined with its powerful visual style, White Night really knocks it out of the park on the production end of things.
But this makes it all the more depressing that the interactive part of White Night fails to deliver the promise of its great production and very well-written, if very generic Gothic narrative. Despite its strange and thematically unsatisfying ending, it feels like the developers at OSome Studios knew exactly the story they wanted to tell, and precisely how to frame it with its cinematic fixed camera angles, gorgeous black-and-white art style, and unique jazzy horror soundtrack.
Unfortunately the actual game side of things is where White Night falls apart. While there are quite a few clever puzzles in the game, as soon as it shifts to a more stealth-based interaction experience is when White Night feels lost in its own haunted house. The unpredictable AI makes it hard to make it through the game with its purposefully designed non-existent toolkit, and the sheer amount of enemies OSome Studios throws at you in incredibly tight spaces made the vast majority of White Night maddeningly frustrating. There's some things to enjoy about White Night, but there's a lot more to hate and become repulsed by.
TWO OUT OF FIVE
(A bad game with an abundance of flaws which outweigh its positive aspects)