The White Chamber review
The Chamber of Slumber
I’ll admit something before I say anything else: I’m not a fan of point-and-click games. Whether it’s the simplicity of it all or the way I don’t feel truly immersed in the game, they’ve just failed to grab me as I’d like them to. Plus, games like Myst are enough to put anyone off. Still, The White Chamber in typical indie fashion sets out to draw in the audience through the bizarre and mysterious combined with a good dash of horror. It makes a refreshing change from the typical puzzling point-and-click titles I’m used to seeing about, but is it enough to interest someone who until now has been indifferent to the genre?
The White Chamber has one of those plots that throw you into things with little explanation. Seemingly alone on a space station, a young punk-like woman wakes up inside a coffin. Asked the question “Do you regret?”, she sets out with no memory of who she is or why she’s there in order to try and figure out what’s really going on. But with blood and body parts scattered throughout, not a living soul in sight and entire environments contained within rooms that when re-entered are a one-way ticket into out of space, it feels as if the very station itself is set against her. It does well to create initial shock and interest, drawing the player in for want of answers. We’re kept just as clueless as our character, merely discovering tidbits to piece together through video discs in a fashion that reminded me fondly of Dead Space (amongst some other things). Which considering the lack of characters and minimal input on our part, is a decent way of maintaining plot progression while also keeping with the whole “you’re alone and in danger” message the game constantly drills into you.
Working alongside this is the layout of the storytelling of your personal adventure, which for reasons of popularity is perhaps best compared to the Goosebumps series of novels. Similar to the “pick a page” style, The White Chamber bases progression on choices by the player, resulting in the ability to play several times and create a brand new story for yourself with each play through. This also applies to the very end of the game, which has no less than several endings to experience depending on your choices throughout the game and the gain or loss of karma points. Like the sense of mystery it tries to drag the player in, perhaps with their dying early and playing again to try and learn more (like me...). And this sense of “off the page” gameplay extends to other elements, but we’ll get to that. And overall, the plot is one of the better elements of the title.
The controls... well, you point and click! It’s as simple as that. You use the left click to move and right click to select objects, which is then teamed up with the use of a green hand to interact with said object or a red hand to get the woman’s thoughts on it. Exploration of the station involves clicking like mad to make her follow like an awfully obedient dog, which is a blessing and a curse. A blessing because she does move around at a decent rate without getting stuck on things, but bad in the sense that the camera moves rather slowly and so can cause some movement issues in tandem with clicking like you want to kill her off yourself. It’s something that could’ve been sorted out by having the camera control attached to the cursor itself and moving it by pushing against the sides of the screen – not a game breaking issue mind, but it does hamper progress and cause frustration at times. Having said this, something I do enjoy is the smooth action of bringing up your inventory by simply moving your cursor to the top of the screen to make it drop down without having to pause the game, which is something I’ve found I personally enjoy when it comes to horror titles (alright, this is different, but at least that’s another fond likeness to Dead Space to chalk up).
But naturally something has to be in our way as we go through the game, and to this end we’re given puzzles in a rather mixed bag. It’s more or less simple for the most part, figuring out how to apply the items you’ll scavenge around the station to the objects and tasks around you. But sometimes – given perhaps the nature of the genre – it feels more like a case of just trial and error over and over and not in the good sense of difficulty but rather in simply being at a loss of what the game wants you to do. There’s just something about observing the world through hovering your cursor over every little thing that grinds my gears (and not just because it reminds me of the ridiculous visor scan puzzles of Metroid: Other M) which I feel is where my problem with it all stems from. But when you manage to get past this there is some decent thinking and exploring involved, and of course that sense of satisfaction for overcoming your obstacles (and some of these will have you ripping out hair before chucking it up like confetti in celebration).
The graphic of this game are – well, they’re graphic. The White Chamber marries the mysterious with the violent, with some rather horrific scenes of gore and violence seeded throughout – which when you can do nothing but point and click, actually makes for quite the scary atmosphere as the feeling of helplessness engulfs you. The look of the game is like one of those cartoons you used to watch on a Sunday morning as a kid. It’s not going to blow your mind (the Trine series shows what indie games can achieve there) but at the same time the grainy look it carries works well. It features a couple of cut scenes which aren’t anything particularly impressive, but they do at least get the job done. There’s also a bunch of still shots during our character’s dialogue, which helps to convey the emotions a bit better in place of constant in-game animations – and interestingly is done in a clean and vibrant style, which only helps to contrast her to the dark, forbidding environment that surrounds her.
Sound is used pretty well in tandem, with a great focus placed upon the use of background noise. A little tinker here, a little rattle there. Although letting the game sit there long enough will desensitise you to the track playing over and over, it does work well with the graphics in keeping that atmosphere of loneliness and danger alive as you progress. The music changes tempo to try and heighten tension for example, but compared to the graphics and sounds it’s the weakest of contenders as far as atmosphere is concerned – and certainly nothing you’ll remember down the track. And although the voice acting works and manages to express emotion well enough, there is an annoying bug where sometimes it simply won’t play along with the text on screen – and the less said about syncing up with the mouth of the character, the better.
Okay, so The White Chamber hasn’t suddenly swung me round into liking the genre of pointing at things and clicking (but then again neither did CoD or Halo BAHAHA). Still, having said this I can appreciate the effort that went into it and being a fairly decent experience for an average indie title. It may not boast the beautiful scenes of a game like Trine, or the brilliant game mechanics of something like World of Goo, but it does strive to create a pretty decent atmosphere to scare the player out of their shell and impress that sense of isolation upon us. Had this game a larger budget and allowed me the use of a keyboard, I may have actually quite liked it. It’s a fairly short game with little replay value outside of wanting to see all the possibilities and endings, and unless you’re a fan of the genre it’s not a title I’d go out of my way to suggest. In saying that, if you like to be spooked and mystified and have some time to waste on an alright plot, then perhaps you may want to give The White Chamber a spin after all... or it’ll spin you, depending on how you look at things.
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