The White Chamber review
It's been a while since we've seen a horror themed point and click game. The majority of point and click games nowadays are comedies with some serious ones every now and again, but strangely, it's as if horror got pushed to the sidelines. I could blame Resident Evil for this (whether I want to blame the first one or the fourth one is up for debate), but I could also blame the lack of popularity of horror games too. Shit, this isn't some big budget game by Telltale Games; this is a university project, or it was, until they decided to expand it into a full game - and the thing is, survival horror started off with the point and click style before moving onto action-oriented survival horror with Resident Evil. The White Chamber tries to bring back the spirit of true survival horror - I know it has no actual survival, but you know what I mean.
It starts with a nameless girl waking up from inside a coffin. She's forgotten how she got onto what appears to be a ship in space (hint: don't apply for jobs like this while shitfaced), so throughout the game, she has to piece together her memory while finding out just what's going on, especially as the ship starts to *bleep* with her mind (on top of our minds). Throughout the game, you'll find video disks that will piece together information about the ship's dark secrets and why it's cursed. Like any good point and click game, the story is the star. The dark atmosphere combined with the mystery of the ship is enough to keep you playing, wondering what's going on. You'll find video discs that vaguely explain what happened on the ship prior to you awakening inside the coffin, and it's vague enough to give you an idea of what could be going on, but not enough to stop you from wondering, and that further drives you to play through it. The ending will especially surprise you because you're thinking that something else would happen, and then BAM, surprise ending!
Also like any good point and click game, the idea is to find objects and use the appropriate ones to interact with the environment in order to find more objects, or to solve puzzles. As you would expect, the puzzles tend to involve using whatever items you find and hoping something works, which can range from easy to a bit on the tricky side. They tend to require common sense and maybe a bit of investigating to get some idea, although some are a bit out of left field... like why would you throw a phaser at a projection screen? That's like throwing a fire extinguisher into a fire (and what I find hilarious is that even though you collect a fire extinguisher and there's a room with fire in it, you don't actually get to extinguish the fire)!
To control your character, you point your mouse to what you want to interact with, and click to do something with it - left click to move and right click to either observe it or use it (or try to if she can't actually it). Accessing your items is as easy as moving the mouse to the top of the screen, and - yeah, the controls are pretty simple and easy to get the hang of. Standard point and click stuff, really. I have, however, had a bit of difficulty with the sensitivity whenever I want to interact with thinner/smaller objects at first as it tends to go further than you'd expect it to, but it was an easily overcomable obstacle.
Actually, while I'm thinking about flaws, the camera moves soo *bleep*ing SLOWLY! You could be walking along from one side to the other, and in any other point and click game, the camera would be centered on you... not here. It moves when you hit a side, and it moves really damn slowly, so getting out of a room can take a while. Good thing you're not on a time limit, or I'd be really pissed.
One thing that you should keep in mind is the karma system. If you do certain actions throughout the game, you'll gain a karma point, although there is one instance where you can be a dick and lose a point. What these lead to are multiple endings. Depending on how many karma points you have, you'll get one of four endings. Subsequently, there are four additional endings... in the form of deaths. They're mostly easy to avoid, although one is very easy to get if you wander through to a certain room, because you can't leave it. But yeah, you have multiple endings to consider, which is sweet, because the game isn't very long. It'll take maybe... an hour or two to get through the game. I really wish that they added more content, but eh, take what you can get I guess...
The graphics manage to really go well with the story. The colors are dark and gritty, and each design goes well with the moment. One moment can be crisp but still dark to give you the feeling of isolation, and another can have a lot of blood everywhere, especially where monsters lay. The monsters may look a bit generic, but never let that fool you, because they can still leave an unsettling feeling – especially since you can't defend yourself and only encounter maybe a few throughout the entire game. That would make any encounter seem scary. Plus there are a few anime scenes that, although not quite as crispy as the in-game graphics, still look nice and have good enough animation (plus you can do worse for this kind of transition, and it's called Deus Ex: Human Revolution). The only issues are some lip syncing screw ups and the woman's movement animation... it just looks odd, like a 90s point and click game on those old CD-ROMS or the Sega CD.
The music in this game is what gives the game a lot of oomph. Most of it consists of something that'd sound like an ominous wind, and when there's music, it signals the arrival of something scary. This is something I criticized Resident Evil 4 for, but honestly, this can be done right - while you're anticipating something scary due to a change in tempo, you're going through rooms that would be scary enough, and then the pay off is just... wow. The voice acting is pretty strong, even if it doesn't match with the written text or lip syncing - that's because there's enough conviction and authenticity to overlook them.
The White Chamber is certainly an unsettling game once it gets going, which is both straight away and a little into the game. The only issue is its length, which it tries to go around with multiple endings, but ultimately, it just makes you wish there was more. However, it's something that absolutely has to be played. It does a very good job of conveying a dark and often scary atmosphere with some parts that just screw with your mind a bit. Not to mention that it has some great writing and some pretty slick puzzles - it's a free game, so you wouldn't have much to lose, except for some time... but the time is well worth spending on this game, so quit your belly itching and download it already!
Replay Value: 6/10