White Night Review: Style Murders Substance

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But okay, so the art design came out both good and bad, and so did the puzzles. But really, this is throat clearing on some level, because the real test of a good horror game, even when the rest of this fails, is whether its story is worth hanging around for; whether it presents a narrative that is worth the intentionally or unintentionally bad elements of the rest of the game. And to give “White Night” some credit on this front, whatever else one thinks of it, its story is very, very, very well told. Setting aside the occasionally clunky nature of the writing in the protagonist’s internal monologue, which tries way too hard to sound like a noir detective even though the player isn’t a detective at all, and the utter non sequitors that comprise the game’s attempts at social commentary, this is a game that knows how to draw you into its tale. There are plot holes — the protagonist not simply breaking a window and hightailing it the instant the malevolent ghost shows up, for instance, or the artificially low number of matches the player can carry — but you’ll only notice them if you think too hard.

Its ending is so thoroughly predictable…that it feels like playing through your high school “write like Edgar Allan Poe” writing assignment.

The game uses three different storytelling devices to get its tale across, and like most good ghost stories, it’s one that you stumble across after it’s already happened. But while this is a ghost story, it’s not one where all the spirits are malevolent. You actually deal with two spirits in the game — the hideously bitter spirit of an evil Boston matriarch called Margaret Vesper (the game’s antagonist), and the benevolent but trapped spirit of Selena Sandvik, a jazz singer who became a lover to Margaret’s son, William Vesper. William acts as a sort of secondary narrator throughout most of the game, as it’s mostly his journal entries and letters that you find throughout the game’s haunted house. Margaret and Selena also pitch in on narration duty with their own letters and journals, as well as a number of other seemingly unrelated women whose significance you won’t realize until one of the game’s many shocking reveals, but there’s no doubt that this is William’s story, even if it’s occasionally told in others’ voices.

That William’s story ends tragically goes without saying. But the particular way in which it ends tragically reduces what is otherwise a very well told, intriguing horror yarn into nothing but a mess of cliches. The game could have gone in a really interesting direction with some of its elements, but instead, its ending is so thoroughly predictable (this author called it upon reading the very first entry in William Vesper’s diary) that it feels like playing through your high school “write like Edgar Allan Poe” writing assignment. And so again, the substance of the game is entirely trumped by the style.


And really, that’s kind of the problem with “White Night.” It’s chock full of rich, textured style, but that style only acts as a covering for threadbare substance. The game’s short run time, absolute lack of replay value, extreme linearity, mediocre puzzles and disappointing story end up taking center stage precisely because it’s put so much effort into looking pretty that once the novelty of its visuals and artistic choices wear off, you end up wondering what the point was. But the point, rather like Margaret Vesper’s rest, never comes, and what you are left with is not so much a game, but an interactive canvas. I can’t recommend it; in fact, I’d say that everything this game tries to do, “Neverending Nightmares” does better, and therefore, I urge you to pick that up instead.

A copy of this game was provided to GameSided for the purpose of this review. Click here to learn more about our Review Policy.