White Night released quietly on Xbox One (the platform I played it on; it's also available on PlayStation 4 and PC) on March 6. The game itself is toned down from what usually constitutes a "horror game" nowadays, so perhaps the suddenness of its appearance in the Xbox store was fitting. I had seen trailers for it and knew I was going to get it as soon as it released, so when I noticed its arrival I did exactly that. It's one of the wisest $15 purchases I've ever made.
I'm not a fan of jump scares. I find them cheap and ineffective. Five Nights at Freddy's did nothing for me, Outlast got me two or three times. I prefer the crushing despair of I Have No Mouth, and I Must Scream or the tension of P.T., the scariest game I've ever played. It's the suspense that gets me, and White Night gets it right.
Still, it's something else. I can't quite describe what it is. It's a point and click adventure, but it's also survival horror. Mostly it's just weird. One moment you'll be hunting down logs to start a fire. The next you'll be readjusting a Solar System model in order to retrieve a key. And prepare to rotate valves that cause hot water to run through pipes so you can ignite a boiler and obtain an ax. Yes, that actually happens.
I'll admit I didn't like doing any of those things. I also didn't like a trial and error section at the end that had me running for my life; it's a case of the game breaking its own rules. It's easily the worst part of the entire game, but a few other unfair moments spring up throughout and I not like them very much neither. But I stuck with it even when I felt like grinding my controller into powder.
Fortunately, White Night rewards patience. Its art style, a black and white, comic book-y look that dwells in nearly complete darkness, is incredible. It alone makes the game a must-play, but then there's the story. It's disjointed, existing mostly in collectibles, which makes the game tougher than it would be for someone not interested in what's really going on in the mansion the protagonist enters after his untimely car crash at the start. The value there should lie in whether or not the collectibles are worth seeking out, and they are. They absolutely are.
I'm not big on "lore" collectibles. I don't think I've ever finished a single book in any of the Elder Scrolls games or read any of the codex entries in the entire series of Dragon Age. I just don't care. White Night made me care. I read every single note, diary, song, sign, and poster I came across in it without ever getting restless. It is a champion among games that interrupt gameplay with screens of text because it doesn't feel like it's interrupting anything at all.
The writing is fantastic (the voice acting is not, but it's rare). I predicted the ending almost as soon as I set foot in the graveyard outside the mansion for the first time, but it's the journey that matters, not the destination. And what a journey it is. White Night begins as a basic haunted house mystery and slowly transforms into something far, far more sinister. Oh my heavens, it's disturbing.
I entered a room in the mansion and discovered a sight that made me turn the game off for a bit. It bothered me so much I had to get away and recompose myself. I'm the type of guy who goes on murder sprees in Assassin's Creed and chuckles with glee at the fatalities in Mortal Kombat, but when death is presented in a specific way, as it is in that aforementioned room, it turns me off quicker than a spark in a vacuum. The suddenness of it is tossed in for shock value, but, like the rest of the game, it isn't at all what you'd expect.
White Night is the sultry voice coming from the lounge stage that sends chills down your spine. It's the nightmarish side of America, the real side we all try so often to ignore. A stunner disguised as something simple and old school. The video game Alfred Hitchcock would be proud of. It's fantastic.
Note: Don't play White Night if you don't like the idea of having to strike a match (matches are limited) every minute or so to be able to see. Don't play it if you don't like the idea of having to manually save a lot. Checkpoints are sparse and the only way to save is to use a specially marked chair (most of which can't be accessed without light) or finish an entire chapter. Don't play it if you don't want to feel consistently hopeless. Don't play it if you don't like games that criticize the patriarchy.