Tuesday, January 15, 2013

In Progress Game Review: White Noise

Game: White Noise

Platform: Xbox 360

Developer: Milkstone Studios

ESRB Rating: unrated

So I finished the last game I’d been playing and was messing around on X-Box Live, browsing the indie games that are out there.  I admired some for what I thought were awesome titles along (‘Avatars Don’t Bleed’) and others for doing something a little different with a basic game concept we’re all familiar with. But then, one of these games really caught my eye.  White Noise.  I can’t even really say why it intrigued me.  The description was so mediocre that I can’t remember what it said and the screenshots they’d posted were only so-so.  Furthermore, there was no way to rally tell what type of game this was because the developers had elected the genre of Other.  Which, to be perfectly honest, might be what intrigued me right there.  But I digress.

White Noise was only 80 Microsoft points… pocket change left in the account from my last purchase, so I didn’t really feel like I’d be out anything if it truly sucked.  At less than 50mbs, it downloaded quickly and I was ready to play.

The first thing the game tells you is that to really enjoy the game to play it with the volume up and the lights out.  “Okay,” I said aloud, “I’ll trust you on this.”  Once I’d fulfilled those obligations, I sat down and really started to play.

The setup is straightforward:  you and your friend work for a paranormal magazine and have gone to a site in the woods for an investigation. You stay behind to set up cameras, while said friends goes outside to place the recording equipment.  He’s been gone for two hours, you’re worried, and decide the best course of action is to go out and look for him.  The premise also sounds fairly simple:  find eight tape recorders hidden in the woods.  Here’s where things get interesting.

From a first person perspective, you are surrounding by darkness and shadows.  The only things you can really see well are what’s illuminated in the glare of your flashlight.  A wind is howling through the trees and night insects chirp as your feet crunch with each step.  Sometimes ambient music drifts in and if you listen closely you can hear what almost sounds like a man screaming in the distance.  You pass some eerie landmarks along the way:  what appears to be some sort of Greco-Roman ruins, gigantic half buried statues, and a downright sinister looking bathroom area.

What impresses me here is that this game truly gives you the feeling of wandering through an unfamiliar forest in the middle of the night.  It pulls you in rather quickly, in fact, just by how genuine everything feels.  One button switches your flashlight on and off. You can press right trigger to sprint, but to do this your character has to drop the flashlight to his side;  meaning that you only get brief flashes of light from the bobbing camera as you run.   The only clues you have as to where the tape recorders are hidden are auditory.  Each one hisses with white noise and the closer to one you are, the louder it gets. If a loud hiss starts growing fainter, you know you’re heading away from your goal and have to readjust. 

As I was stumbling through the forest I saw what looked to be a human shaped shadow in the distance.  When I’d move, it would move.  When I stopped, it stopped. But it was always facing me.  And always just a little bit closer.  I approached it cautiously, circling and always making sure to keep it within the corona of my flashlight.  Bit by bit more details began to emerge and the effect of this part was downright creepy.
However, I can see how this game might get a little repetitive as you only have one life to try to find all eight recorders and there’s no such thing in White Noise as “taking damage”.  One shot is all you’ve got and if you fail, you’re right back at stage one.

So I’m going to hold an overall score for the time being and give just the atmosphere an impressive 6 out of 6 demons.  Stay tuned for updates.  My son has informed me that this game if a clone of another, called Slender, so I expect that might hurt the final rating in terms of originality, but as an introduction to this style of game it’s quite effective.

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