Thursday, 17 October 2013

Forgotten Nightmares – White Night Review

Forgotten Nightmares – White Night Review


By Owen Jones (Extractor of Folders)

White Night, for those of you who don’t know, is a Custom Story for Amnesia: The Dark Descent. This means, as it is a mod, it is completely free of charge for anyone who owns the original game. It also means it's developed by a single person without the aid of money, and despite this it's a full length experience. Considering it is most likely the most well known and well acclaimed of Amnesia’s mods I thought it might be a good place to start a (hopefully) frequent series of Custom Story reviews, but if you have made or know of a good mod for me to review I’d be happy to do so. Anyway, here's a trailer for you:

To begin perhaps giving you an idea of what the games like is in order? No? Well fuck you, I’ll continue anyway.
Q: What is the level design like in White Night?
A: Impressive.
Q: How good is the writing?
A: Impressive.
Q: And the locations? What’s the scope of the mod like?
A: Impressive.
Q: What’s your favourite adjective?
A: Impressive.
Q: Who’s asking these generic questions?
A: That isn’t important.
Q: Of what quality is the voice acting?
A: This Question and Answer session has been terminated.
Q: Does that mean it’s bad?
A: ...

Just to reiterate this is a pretty long Mod; it took me around 5 hours at my lumbering pace to finish. Also this was made by a single man on a budget for nothing to make a game that costs nothing at all (presuming you already own Amnesia). The word you’re looking for is impressive.
A bridge over troubled, not to mention haunted, water

The game takes place is an asylum. Don’t be put off by the unoriginality of location though, as things gradually weirder and weirder the architecture follows suit, leading to some interesting and original level design.
There is a certain level of running-and-not-gunning involved, and some basic puzzles (find key, insert key into lock, gradually apply pressure to door... OH DEAR LORD WHAT THE HELL IS THAT? Repeat until insane), but I’d say it’s more of a story driven mod. The gameplay was neither good nor bad enough to be noticeable, so it’s fairly run of the mill. At a few stages, however, I had problems. For instance at a few points you have to traverse chasms by platform style jumping. For me these sections were too long, and there are only finite times you can respawn before losing all immersion. There was also a puzzle involving a piano that gave some players grief, but I found it more dumb than annoying.

The plot’s good, but never exceptional.  There’s a really good mysterious vibe to it, and plenty of ambiguity. Have I ever told you how much I love ambiguity? Video games need to learn that some holes are best left unfilled, and White Night leaves a good amount to the mind. The end confused me more than intrigued me, which was a little disappointing because with a bit more polish I could be telling you how incredible it was and triple-A titles should take note. Perhaps I just missed something that would have made it more clear to me, but I never felt overwhelmed. There’s some really interesting stuff on the topic of memories and sanity, but again a little more development would be nice, though it’s good to have something thought provoking and there's more to think about here than in a lot of games.
Come prepared for strained necks

But what really makes White Night so memorable and spectacular is the amount of customisation. For starters this is a total conversion, so as well as having to be opened separately to Amnesia it means that everything, right down to the menu and loading screen, can be overhauled. White Night is a shining example of this. Upon starting you’ll be greeted by menu with an animated background and everything. Instead of clicking on ‘New Game’ you click on ‘Start new Session’, the ‘load’ text has been replaced by ‘Remember’. It’s probably worth baring in mind this can be quite confusing, but though I worried I never clicked on quit instead of save or some such blunder.
The textures in the game have also been changed, including things from Amnesia (HPL2 engine) and Penumbra (HPL1 engine). This is really refreshing after the repeated use of so many of Amnesia’s textures, and makes it feel like a completely different experience to Amnesia. Sometimes these did clash or didn’t quite fit in, but it really isn’t a problem once you get into the mod. There are also a number of custom textures including replacing the lantern and oil with a torch and batteries, tinderboxes are now light bulbs (which I would have enjoyed using more of).
The writings good and fits in well with White Night's atmosphere. I thankfully couldn’t find any grammatical mistakes (always a worry when playing Custom Stories). There are a number of cutscene type events, and although I’m normally against these I enjoyed them and they were well thought out. The voice acting is, well... distracting. I could never feel emotion in the voices and reactions never felt realistic. Still, it’s good to see its inclusion, and I didn’t resort to repeatedly hitting my head against my desk (or worse quit), which is always nice.
Either the chair was placed on top of the blood stain or someone rubbed blood in under the chair

I feel quite harsh criticising White Night, and it feels eerily like nitpicking, because it really is an excellent mod that rightfully deserves its cult status. Original textures and heaps of customization really make this mod special, and wonderfully weird level design and an ambiguous and often intriguing plot are welcome. It’s horror themed, but doesn’t try to impose horror onto you, like so many Custom Stories fall into the trap of doing (after completing Amnesia I’ve adjusted to that type of horror and just throwing more at me never really terrifies me any more).
So if you already own Amnesia then I can think of no possible reason why you shouldn’t play this. It’s free, feels like a full length game and is thought provoking enough to warrant a playthrough, even if you’re sick and tired of the whole Custom Story thing.
Installation is nice and easy through Desura, but there’s also a Mod DB page if you can’t get enough of cursing and/or crying with despair (or just enjoy extracting files for some reason).
I’ll try to alternate between Indie games and mods, so if your keen to hear my thoughts on a particular mod (or game for that matter) then just get in contact and I’ll do my best to please.
This is where you pre-book your descent into insanity. Queues can be long around mid-afternoon