A newly released trailer for the upcoming indie game The Novelist teases what could be an extraordinary adventure game. Placing players in the ethereal boots of a ghost haunting a house inhabited by a writer and his family, they are encouraged to explore and influence the lives of these characters while staying out of site. As a fan of the genre and as a writer, I can’t help but be intrigued by this title. The Novelist promises a game about “life, family, and the choices we make.”
Proper horror games are few and far between these days, and they tend to creep up more on PC thanks to independent developers and distribution platforms like steam. Since its introduction, Xbox Live Indie Games (XBLIG) has been largely abused by a community of users determined to make their mark by releasing complete garbage or “me-too” knock offs. There have been several solid releases in the XBLIG marketplace over the years, yes, but they’re constantly becoming harder and harder to find with each new day of unsolicited downloadable shovelware. White Noise: A Tale of Horror is one of those shameless copycats… but it’s a very good one.
While I haven’t played Slender: The Eight Pages, I wasn’t completely ignorant to the fact that White Noise was a rip off; despite this, I felt starved for a good scare and decided to give White Noise a try… after all, it was only $1 (80 MSP). I am pleased to say that it was a very worthwhile purchase.
Since I haven’t played Slender, I can’t draw comparisons between the two (though I have heard they are essentially identical games); instead, I will be reviewing White Noise based on its own merits.
White Noise is a simple game following a simple formula: plop players in random locations in the middle of a creepy forest with nothing but a flashlight and the will to outrun a terrifying, shadowy creature set on making you dead. Players are tasked with recovering eight tape recorders hidden throughout various creepy locations featuring run-down architecture and ominous noises. There are few cues or hints as to where the recordings are located–static noises are used to indicate the player is close to an audio log, but the game doesn’t feature a HUD or any other markers indicating where the logs may be found. It’s a bit of a cop-out to increase the game’s longevity by encouraging multiple playthroughs to acclimate one’s self to the game’s environment, but it’s surprisingly effective as the game rarely feels monotonous as the tension never seems to subside.
Being placed in random locations, it’s a challenge to get oriented from the beginning, and having the viewing area limited to only what the flashlight illuminates certainly doesn’t make things easier. While it can be easy enough to get back on a familiar path, once players start picking up the audio logs, the shadowy figure begins making appearances, forcing players to run and (possibly) get lost again. Audio-visual cues indicate when the creature is close (featuring snowy static around the border of the screen and fitting audio when the shadow figure is near), and a lot times it comes completely out of nowhere. White Noise is incredibly effective at the jump scare, and it manages to make that startling moment last with a sense of danger and tension after the initial startling revelation that there is a monster nearby. There is no offense against the creature, players’ only option is to run away. Running isn’t unlimited, either–and it’s certainly not fast. I found myself tightly gripping the right trigger (used for sprinting) in desperation hoping that I could get away from the creature–it only worked sometimes.
Adding to the tension is the game’s beautifully rendered horror world. Being mostly shrouded in darkness probably helps this game to be more visually appealing, but there’s no denying that it’s one of the best looking (if not the best looking) games on XBLIG. The forest is genuinely creepy and the run down cemetery and crumbling monuments decorating the world help add to that feeling of uneasiness.
The sound design is equally effective. The game’s score appropriately becomes more and more intense with each audio log the player recovers–adding to the heart pounding intensity as each note bursting through the speakers nearly shouts, “It’s coming to get you!” The sounds of nature and other haunting noises are as misleading as they are cause for dread.
Story, on the other hand, is nearly non-existent. The game begins with a text introduction before plopping players into the woods to gather audio logs they cannot listen to–they’re merely tokens of progress that can be used to unlock gameplay bonuses from the game’s menu. I’m a sucker for horror as much as I am a fan of lore–that this game actually managed to frighten me and that it only cost a dollar are reason’s I’m willing to look the other way in regards to plot. As much as I would have loved there to be an actual story, it could have also detracted from the experience if it were poorly written or thought out.
White Noise may not be a beacon of originality or the zenith of storytelling, but it’s a mighty fine horror experience. The scares, as cheap as they may be, are genuine and lasting–this isn’t something that can be said about most of the AAA “horror” games out there now. I’d love to see more horror content make its way to the Indie Games channel on Xbox Live and I think White Noise is a great first step in that direction. If you are starved for a good horror experience, White Noise is well worth the dollar and time.
White Noise: A Horror Tale A Tale of Horror is currently available on XBLIG for 80 MSP.