Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Review: The White Chamber

Holy shit, it's the point and click version of Dead Space!

No, that's seriously what I was thinking as I was playing through this game – it takes place exclusively inside a spaceship, it has a horror theme, and there are monsters terrorizing a ship. Sounds a lot like Dead Space, except, as I've stated, it plays out like a point and click game (not unlike Tales Of Monkey Island or Broken Sword), and there's a lot more emphasis on horror. The White Chamber tends to fuck with your mind while Dead Space just makes you jump with sudden monster encounters. Maybe not like Silent Hill, but it can still instill fear into your mind.

Anyway, a nameless woman wakes up inside a coffin, forgetting what had happened beforehand. What you have to do is explore the spaceship, figuring out what you were doing there. But there are many dangers – or are there? Like I said, it has a bit of a tendency to fuck with your mind a bit, but you keep playing anyway, because you want to know how this will play out, and vicariously, how it will screw with you. Like I said, this has nothing on the likes of Silent Hill or The Suffering, especially since those games are much longer, but with sudden appearances of monsters and dark visuals, it becomes apparent that you may want to figure out what's going on, plus it does have quite an atmosphere that'll draw you in to do so.

You collect video discs that vaguely detail what happened to somebody on this ship prior to when the game begins, and with the vague details, you press on, hoping to piece it altogether, and... well, I won't spoil it for you, but let's just say that the ending will unload a can of worms on you... BLOODWORMS – nah, just worms, but it still comes out of nowhere. The payoff is damn fine, to put it simply. I won't spoil anything, but suffice it to say, it's certainly worth playing through to experience.

The idea is to point and click to find, collect and use objects in order to proceed. It's always a good idea to “scan the room”, so to speak. Thankfully, it's not a pixel hunter (seriously, pixel hunting in 2005? hahahahaha); in fact, the items are fairly big. It's pretty convenient how your character knows what most of these things are, especially since they tend to help you solve the puzzles in this game – most of which consist of placing the right item(s) in the right place. Commonplace for point and click games, for sure, but a lot of them are based on common sense, and as such, they're pretty easy. You never really have to bust your balls to figure out how to solve a puzzle – except on a couple here and there. Even then, that's practically the bulk of the game right there.

Throughout the game, you can earn karma points by performing certain actions. As the name would imply, you earn them by being a good person. Some questions will test this, and there are some actions that you should do because you're a good person like that... right? RIGHT!? But yeah, whenever there's an opportunity to be a good person, do it. That's... really all. There's like one moment where you can be a dick and lose a karma point, but that's it. It just feels like it was put in there because why not? The issue is that it becomes a chore to play it again... maybe that's why it's so short – so that you won't feel like you've wasted a lot of time playing the exact same game except you do some things differently, and if I'm being honest, these were more of a noodlescratcher than most of the actual puzzles. I don't know whether to say that it's sad or good, so I'll just say “meh” and proceed...

That's not to say that it's bad or even mediocre – just easy. They're still fairly well crafted puzzles with logic in mind – just basic logic. Don't expect any that'll rattle your brain like in the old Lucas Art-made games. At least it'll stop you from being frustrated, unless you require your puzzles to be hard as fuck.

I suppose you could say that a lot of the budget went towards creating the mood. There's a lot of dark and gritty stuff in this game. Lots of blood, lots of dull dark colors to emphasize the feeling of isolation – really, it's designed to give you the feeling that you're alone on this shit, and yet, you're not actually alone, given that there's some blood in a few rooms and it may be fresh... the designs also look nice. You and the monsters are presented in an anime style, although the animation is as fluid as your typical American animation (put it this way – Japanese animation moves more slowly than their American counterparts)... at least for the models, anyway. The few anime cutscenes you get seem to be at the usual 20/30fps, with a bit of choppiness here and there, and it's pretty fuzzy looking... at least on my monitor (my resolution is 1920x1080 and there's no setting to optimize for that size, though given that everything else looks crispy, I guess it does so automatically and these just weren't meant for a monitor of my size).

As for the sound design, it certainly works well enough to really draw you in and tense you up. There isn't much in the way of music – just a droning sound and your footsteps do wonders to lull you into a false sense of security, only for the music to intensify for a potentially intense situation. Damn, this is fucking sick! I mean, it's not overly impressive on its own merits, but in these kinds of games, it's better to go for atmosphere than for a top 40 hit. But honestly, I don't feel that the voice acting is that good. In these kinds of games, it should be really convincing, getting you into it... yet here, I can tell that there are people behind a microphone providing the voices. Maybe it's because the emotions feel exaggerated? Seems like it. Plus I've noticed that some clips have inconsistent volumes, like one clip will be quiet and the next will be at a medium volume... eh.

The White Chamber is a serviceable point and click game with a pretty good story and atmosphere. The puzzles might be pretty simple, but they're still fairly well integrated into the game. The morality system isn't a bad idea, but there isn't much of it... in fact, there isn't much of The White Chamber, period. Add onto the fact that nothing is ever as tense or scary the second time around as it was the first time (save for maybe Silent Hill and The Suffering), and there's almost no point in replaying it. A nice distraction with a tense atmosphere, but that's it.

6.5/10 (Above Average)

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