The White Chamber review
This Game Is All-White
Egad, what's this. Insanity Prevails is reviewing a PC game that is not A) a visual novel or B) a doujin game? What's more is that this is a point and click adventure title that said gamer has often ignored in fear of a boring experience? In other news a coldfront is sweeping across Hell and a flock of pigs was just seen migrating.
Okay, enough joking around, but it is true that this is a rarity. However, I had heard good things about it from other people, it's done in an anime style and it happens to be a free game. Can't argue with that so I spent a brief period downloading the title off their main site and installed it (a simple straightforward process). The end result of all this? I have a better appreciation of the whole point and click genre; all thanks to Studio Trophis and their wonderful game.
Drawing in the gamer is a simple task with graphics as beautiful as these. The developers opted for anime style visuals and it shows just how well they could use it. We only have to look at the protagonist to understand, as the ideals of exaggeration comes across in her design. Her large spiky purple hair and almost rebellious outfit makes her seriously look like a tough bruiser ready to cope with anything and it's the kind of design to really stick in the mind and helps her establish herself as a prominent leading character, even if it is a little out of place in the setting. This is furthered by the actual technical brilliance in use. The entire thing has such amazing graphics in play that one could literally mistake it for a commercial game with its crisp clear visuals and striking designs. She stands out wonderful and the sheer level of animation put into her allows for such a degree of actions like walking around, swinging an axe and bending down. There was not a single moment where I questioned the way she, or indeed anything else, moved.
When you've finished drooling over her looks then you can take some time to appreciate the space station she's trapped in. By the time the game takes place some huge disaster has already taken place by the looks of things (better explained when you play through) and the dire circumstances are reflected in the looks. A once pristine station is now covered with dried blood, scrape marks litter the rooms and the whole place has an unsettling look about it - a look that conveys more than the situation initially lets on. What comes around as a nice touch is the way the station continues to change. There are not a tremendous amount of rooms to explore but the rooms that do exist undergo changes based on events and it's good to see this handled well through the way everything looks. The nightmare sequences really turn this up to eleven. The station is creepy enough normally, but then you get areas changing drastically; becoming almost organic and turning the fear factor up. Well, it's not outright fear as in some of the more frightening horror movies, but the game keeps you on the edge and haunts you throughout the entire playthrough for whatever may be waiting just around the next corner.
A few fully animated sequences are also thrown in, just for good measure. The opening shows a sweeping camera angle over the coffin before the lid is pushed aside and the player character stands up, looking around herself nervously. These aren't quite as sharp as the normal graphics but still decent quality and obviously the animation is more better, which lets these moments get an extra special highlight.
One of the key factors about this game is the atmosphere. Sarah is alone and the station appears deserted. Well, something seems to be around but it certainly doesn't look like whatever it is wants to make friends. This plays on the fear factor, and you can thank the magnificent audio for playing such a huge role in it. Most of the time a gentle backing track is in place, gently humming along in the background taking care not to draw too much attention to itself. Where it shines are the moments where the music suddenly changes, usually upping the tempo of the tracks and really putting the player into a state of unease. One example is a nightmare sequence where you're moving from room to room, and the music continually goes up in tempo with each room. Matching this up with visual elements that become more frenzied as you progress hammers it all home.
Oh, and then the sound effects. Certain events are accompanied by what can only be described as really creepy chanting. It's the kind of stuff you would expect of the monsters of Hell and... well, it's hard to put into words. However, when you experience it for yourself then you'll know exactly where I'm coming from. Perhaps the fact that this is used sparingly is what makes it so damn effective when it does kick in.
Voice acting is in full force too. On the one hand, it is odd that there are times where the spoken dialogue does not properly match up with the written text onscreen. I'll forgive that though, as Kagome does such an amazing job giving life to the protagonist as her voice actor. You can fully expect to hear her shock when she finds out where she is, disgust at finding certain things and sadness when dealing with the atrocities that have befallen the station.
The game has a fantastic and yet simple plot. The girl wakes up in a coffin onboard a space station with no memory of who she is and why she is there. After finding out where she is a computer terminal displays an eerie message. "Do you regret?" It's a disturbing opening that sets the scene for what is to follow, especially when you exit the room only to find the next room covered in blood.
From that point the narrative sits back for most of the game, as instead you are spoonfed curious details through the video logs left by one of the researchers and a number of small events that hint at the circumstances she now finds itself in. It is an effective way to maintain the mystery, although I imagine more hardened adventure veterans might be able to take a guess at the big reveal. It proves to be a wonderful reveal as the last part of the game kicks the narrative into overdrive. The mystery is solved and we all get to see exactly what led to the events in the game, which proves to be quite shocking for our protagonist.
Further storyline details can be obtained through "audio logs" that are on the same website as the game. After completing a runthrough of this game I do recommend downloading The Grey Tower logs to get a bigger insight into the horrors.
Gameplay comes down to point and click. You don't get to control the protagonist directly as per other genres would allow but instead direct her with the mouse. Left click an area and she will walk over to the spot, cleverly managing to navigate her way past the station's scenery on her own. She walks around at a reasonable pace, although camera panning is another matter. She walks faster than the camera moves, meaning there are times where you have to wait for the camera to catch up. Fortunately, this is only an issue when in rooms that span more than the visible screen space and you need to go across the whole room so this is rarely a real issue.
In order to progress you will have to work with the rooms and objects within. Right clicking any object that can be checked results in a hand icon and eye icon appearing. The eye icon is used a few times to progress but it's real purpose is to get her insight on whatever she's looking at. Her monologue comments can prove helpful in figuring out puzzles that might be stumping you or to get an idea of what a particular object might be used for. In other circumstances her comments may allude to the events of the game or flat out give us her feelings on the matter.
The hand icon is the all purpose interact command. This lets her pick up objects, activate devices and otherwise manipulate. For anything she can't do anything with she will often provide more comments relating to progressing or the events. It's simple and will be the main action you will use during the game, and there's not really any consequence to just interacting with everything.
Then there are the items. Moving the mouse cursor to the top of the screen shows a bar that displays the items currently in her possession. It's possible to interact and examine these directly in the same manner as anything else. The main use is to left click them to attach them to the cursor and then click on objects to use them. Swiping a key card through a card reader or inserting a VCR tape into a relevant player, for example. The game even decides to throw in a few red herrings, where you can grab items that are never used and instances where an item's use isn't immediately obvious.
So with all that in mind, it's time to discuss puzzles. For a mystery adventure this is the real crux of the game, and one that is done very well. The game has a healthy mix of straightforward easy puzzles and perplexing riddles that require a bit more "out of the box" thinking to get past. For the most part though is that the game rarely gets frustrating with its challenges, as the solutions tend to be just around the corner. Especially when you have her providing her own insights on command.
A couple of puzzles do tend to give a bit of grief due to a break in the flow. Normally the flow of one puzzle leads easily into the next, so you at least have an idea of where to go next. A couple of times are not so obvious, either because a solved puzzle in one room triggers something completely unrelated elsewhere or an item is used in such an illogical manner that it would take outright guessing to set it up. These instances are rare though.
Which does lead us onto the station setup. As mentioned earlier, the rooms of the station change based on the events that play out. More than just a visual effect, as this plays a role in progress. Items won't appear until a specific event has occurred, for example. Despite the low number of rooms, this changing environment keeps you on your toes as you never know when something has changed until you explore around.
The game isn't terribly long, which has good and bad merits. The bad part means that the game ends too soon for my liking. I did enjoy playing through and so would have loved to have seen more of what was on offer so it's significant enough to lose points on it. To counter this are several good points. The length seems perfectly well suited to let the story flow for a start. It is ideal of experiencing without losing too much time to it, which matters only because it's a freeware title that doesn't cost you anything. It also makes hitting the multiple endings easier. Yes, multiple endings. As well as four special death endings there are four proper endings, which are based off your karma score. These endings are quite nice and worth working hard through the game for.
If it weren't for the length then this would have been a triple star game. As it is though, I would mark this as an excellent game with production values so high it happily gives commercial games a run for their money. Considering this is absolutely free then I firmly recommend everyone to give this a whirl.
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