It’s not every day we get a game that’s exactly what it looks like it is. Such is the curious case of White Night, a survival horror game from Swedish developer Osome that aspires to be little more than a decidedly retro take on an old school genre of horror.
Set in the 1930’s, the game follows a man who gets in a car crash near a mysterious mansion. There are signs of life, but nobody is home. Anyone who’s played a spooky game, read a scary book, watched a horror movie or lived on this big blue rock for any significant amount of time would take this as a sign that they should swiftly turn tail in the other direction.
They must have neighbors, no?
Most folks would’ve preferred relaxing in a cold ditch over solving cryptic graveyard puzzles to break into someone’s home, but not this guy. This guy has a fedora and video game logic on his side, and we all know how that’s going to turn out.
This leads me to my one major problem. Take away the mostly gorgeous/occasionally annoying minimalist, black and white art style and White Night becomes every other small budget survival horror game released in the early 2000’s. I can appreciate — admire, even — its desire to give survival horror enthusiasts something to be nostalgic over, but much like the feeling of dread which permeates every nook and cranny of this high-contrast world, I couldn’t shake the notion that I had done this before.
That’s because I did. You did too, if you were playing horror games at the start of the millennium.
What really bothers me is I really enjoyed this game. It’s creepy, takes time constructing its scares and it’s one of a dying breed of horror games that emphasizes atmosphere and presentation over almost everything else.
I love that in series like Silent Hill, but those games usually had something else to carry the experience. An always-changing world, engrossing story, intriguing characters — whatever it was, it’s missing in White Night.
That’s not to say that this game doesn’t have something to offer.
White Night looks great. It does some really nifty things with the lighting, and its restraint in sharing too much of the backstory regarding the main character or his temporary home kept me hooked. What you do find out is drip-fed through documents that have been scattered about each environment. Newspaper clippings and hidden clues shed some light on what’s going on without over-sharing.
Light plays a larger role in the gameplay than I thought it would going in.
The game borrows heavily from older games like the original Resident Evil, or the games that predated it, namely Alone in the Dark and Sweet Home. It takes from these games and gives those familiar ideas a dramatic, noir-style makeover.
Manual save systems and fixed camera angles used to be staples of franchises like Silent Hill and Resident Evil, and they’re back in all their old school glory here. The only truly modern thing about it is its far too easy assortment of puzzles.
If the more action-oriented direction horror has taken over the last decade has spoiled your memory of what survival horror games used to be before Resident Evil 4 became one of the most successful and influential video games of the PS2 era, then let’s take a minute to remedy that.
White Night is slow. It’s about exploration and patience. Sometimes the reward isn’t worth it, other times it is. Stick with it to the end and you’ll leave with memories of one of the best eras for horror gaming. Even resource management comes into play with the matchsticks — often your only source of light — which also happen to be somewhat scarce. Lanterns, it would seem, weren’t invented until after the Great Depression.
I think I enjoyed what this game tried to achieve, more than I did the 5-6 hours I spent with the game itself. Its ambitions are admirable, but its execution leaves a lot to be desired. The ghosts that haunt that mansion’s dimly lit halls are incredibly unsettling, and yet, a few hours into the game I couldn’t help but wonder if they, too, were only there because they were lost as I often was.
The Final Word: For better and for worse, White Night emulates the survival horror games of old. If you can get past its quirks, there’s a lot for a survival horror fan to enjoy here.