You have to wonder what the hell went through Tanshaydar’s head when he created White Night, a mod for the scariest game of 2011, Amnesia: The Dark Descent (if you don’t believe, play it for yourself with headphones on and the lights off. Go ahead). White Night has been available since October 12, 2011, though it’s just now that I’ve come around to actually playing the damn thing. In the vein of classic Silent Hill titles, the focus seems to be on storytelling and puzzle solving, though the main ploy of fear here is psychological terror. I had the pleasure of playing and finishing White Night, and let me tell you, it’s one hell of a mod.
After seeing a creatively-directed introduction sequence marred by pretty horrible voice acting, you are flung into the collapsed, cyclopean vaults that is David’s mind. He has been seemingly reduced to a broken mirror, once a whole entity. Playing White Night has you figuring out your identity, what you did, who you did it to, and why you did it. What “it” is, I won’t spoil it for you, but trust me when I say it’s worth figuring out. Figuring out the intricate details to the story, as well as motivation, is a difficult venture, with human error also playing into things. I love stories that are not superficial, and White Night‘s story is far from superficial. Much like an onion, you peel away at it until you finally reach the core. Wrap this all together in a 4-5 hour package, and you have yourself one hell of a main story.
You take control of David while walking through the halls of what seems like an asylum sequence of hallways, flinging doors and mental acrobatics. A letter you read wants you, as David, to not focus on remembering, but rather, helping someone else. The identity of that someone is something I want you to figure out. The interplay of two or three narratives is done in a very subtle manner, and again, I won’t spoil any of it because of how delicate the story’s scenes and characters are. If you want psychological drama, you’ve come to the right place.
Immediately while playing White Night, I could sense a palpable atmosphere to it, making you realize the intricate depths of the human psyche and the shadows that haunt us in our subconscious. Tanshaydar really tapped into a fountain of knowledge here, and White Night, whether analyzed in pieces or as a whole, is a testament to that.
In terms of graphics, White Night is a world of drab and mortar walls. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing; on the contrast, this creates a perfect juxtaposition with David. The environment is reminiscent of David’s mind: broken, shattered, and closed off from the outside world. Forget what you know about how Amnesia looked like; everything has been redone from the ground up. White Night skillfully subverts all of Amnesia‘s elements in order to tell its own story, with great success. What you see in White Night is incredibly impressive, elements of which I’ll touch upon later.
For the most part, you’re surrounded by asylum bars, rusted iron, vaulted archways of pseudo-modern architecture, and gritty vents that lend themselves to the creation of the game’s puzzle sequences. Some of these puzzle sequences are not just annoying, but very annoying. During this one sequence, I had to navigate a room full of tubs, with half walls and uneven terrain, in order to spin really tiny knobs on really tiny piping. Even so, all of this has been expertly realized, built among the hardships of one Tanshaydar. Given the short 10 month development cycle, what he accomplished here is nothing short of amazing.
Tanshaydar managed to create a foreboding atmosphere of guilt and consequence and, on occasion, manages to create some masterful moments in both narrative and shock. As the game nears the end, there are some truly jarring twists that can actually be quite moving. Even so, at times, I can sense that the story doesn’t perfectly get across what it’s trying to relay. For example, during the 4-5 hour playthrough, I encountered several notes that I bet only the author could fully understand. Though there are nifty references to other games, such as Silent Hill with the Pyramid Head painting, and Penumbra, they can be somewhat cryptic and distracting.
Most disappointing, however, is how a lot of the gameplay is lost in translation to the story itself. In other words, what you’re doing has no correlation as to what you’re hearing. For example, during one part of the game, I had to fix a generator. Having Sofia talk to me is extremely jutting, a disappointment to say the least. Even so, this does not happen often, with the story flowing perfectly fine, for the most part.
Unfortunately, this leads me to yet another downfall: words. There wasn’t much detail in regards to making a verbose and wordy mind trip. Rather, we only get a subtly and introspective look into David’s mind, and as a result, doesn’t have much to say. To put it simply, White Night is more like a pin drop in a silent room rather than a bulldozer through a wall. For some people, this is fine, but for others, this is not. For fans of psychological mysteries, the story will be hit and miss because, for the most part, White Night has a niche story. For fans of Silent Hill and Sanitarium, they will absolutely eat White Night up, but I’m not so sure if fans of Dead Space would do the same.
Moving onwards to the voice acting, I can sum it up in one word: bad. Across the board, voice acting sounds stiff and unemotional, with voices sounding muffled and distant. Given the incredibly short development cycle, it offputs the voice acting a little, but you can tell these voice actors used a desktop microphone or maybe something worse. As a result, an incredibly low-quality amateur sound-scape is created, echoing unconvincing character portrayal. For female characters, this is especially true. At the get-go, you can tell they unfortunately possess accents they desperately attempt to make discrete, but fail to do so. From time to time, they speak in “Engrish” manners, with really sharp inflection and syncopation.
Voice acting, on the whole, is not horrible, per say, but it all sounds unemotional and occasionally hollow. Dialog scenes are pre-recorded; these interactions are not recorded on a duet session between characters, which could have actually benefited the voice acting department. Unfortunately, because a duet session was not recorded, you can easily tell these interactions are separate lines for each actor at separate locations. As a result, reactions, tones, and inflections vary wildly, with responses sounding uncanny and faked. Instead of trying to act it in real time, the voice actors try to “guess” how the other responded.
Surprisingly, though, voice acting is scarce, which helps it not break the game. Instead, the story is told mainly through short, nail-biting notes and memos left for you to find around the asylum. Though thin, the narrative can be excruciatingly painful for those of you in tune with guilt, the subconscious, and psychology in general. If I would suggest any play style, I would recommend you not sprint and play it very slowly. Think about all the symbolism available, and just observe everything.
Thankfully, music is one area where White Night succeeds. All the ambient tracks are perfectly articulated and shuffled. The encounter music, as well as character themes, all have a modern “sage-y” feel to them. Beautiful piano pieces, as well as soft strings and tasteful percussion, wrap up the audio package quite nicely. The musicians behind White Night do an amazing job of matching the themes and atmosphere. I highly recommend the soundtrack, which you can find right here.
If there’s one specific nod I want to make, it’s to how the character of “Doctor Sofia” is handled. Named earlier, it’s evident that Sofia has a sinister inclination. Though her voice acting is pretty bad, Sofia’s darkness is only hinted at in a very tasteful and subtle manner, that which I enjoyed to watch unfold. As a result, that becomes a separate point of praise: the writing. It’s incredibly realistic and polished, evident of a smooth and modern workmanship that bleeds through the very notes and lines you encounter. They reveal a punctual narrative that is anything but. The writing leaves you cold, which only becomes profound at the ending. This cold feeling is the magnum opus of the story as a whole. Definitely a white night.
So what exactly does White Night offer you? It offers an amazing recreation of the modern era in an engine retrofit to do absolutely nothing but the 19th century. It offers a well-written, slow psychological drama that will leave you with more questions than answers up until the very end. It offers solid, though annoying, puzzle sequences. It offers 4-5 hours of gameplay. It offers creative “cinematic” scenes when, in retrospect, it’s a game in no need for them. White Night has creative and tasteful gameplay design, with enemy encounters that are legitimately scary. Finally, it offers a stunning conclusion. Yes, the voice acting is pretty bad, and yes the story, at times, is not entirely smooth. Even so, White Night is an incredible accomplishment, and it’s by far the best Amnesia mod out there right now. Don’t pass up the opportunity to play this game.
If you want more information about White Night, as well as a download, please go here.