Asymmetrical action and horror games have been on the rise in recent years, with titles like Evolve, Friday the 13th and Dead by Daylight released on Sony’s and Microsoft’s consoles and several games on the Wii U offering asymmetrical action as well, such as Bowser Party mode in Mario Party 10. With any emerging subgenre there are bound to be bumps on the road, and asymmetrical action/horror has seen its share – empty servers, matchmaking issues, an almost universal desire to play as the “good guys,” etc. So when I fired up Milkstone Games’s White Noise 2, released October 13, I had no idea what to expect. Here’s what I found.
White Noise 2 is the sequel to the cult PC title White Noise Online. I haven’t played the original (my dying laptop nearly freezes every time I right-click, let alone try to play a game on it), but from my experience and reading up on the franchise, White Noise 2 expands on the original by leaps and bounds – and it stands alone just fine.
Side note: All gameplay elements in White Noise 2 are intricately meshed together, so stick with me as I do my best to explain them in a straightforward fashion.
This 4v1, first-person horror title is on a noticeable Lovecraftian bent – maybe even more so than Dead By Daylight – and it’s lovely. In each match, up to four players take on the role of “investigators” who search large maps for eight clues that are needed to perform a ritual. This ritual banishes a grotesque monster from our realm and prevents an ancient evil from awakening. Our trusty heroes (of whom there are many to unlock) each have different stats affecting their speed, stamina, stealth and more, and each of them have multiple outfits to unlock which slightly affect those stats. Each investigator is armed only with a flashlight (the monster’s weakness is light) and infinite glowsticks with a cooldown period, and there are 10 or so flashlights to unlock – and each of them affects the investigator’s stats as well. Whew. Each character also has unique advantages and disadvantages (or perks, if you like) such as quicker interaction with items or negatively affecting the movement speed of nearby teammates. Investigators also have compasses with cooldown periods that point them to the next clue. There are items strewn about the map that will help them along the way, such as incense that temporarily reveals the location of the monster, new batteries for your flashlight (did I mention the flashlight has limited battery life?) and medkits to heal you after an attack.
Also, one of the investigators is Vincent Price.
The fifth player is, of course, the monster. There are four monsters in the game from whom to choose, and like the investigators, each monster has different stats. Since humans don’t tend to die from having a flashlight shone in their faces, each monster instead has a unique array of tricks and traps to hunt its prey. For example, your first creature, Olkoth, can temporarily disable the investigators’ flashlights, among other powers. Rusalka, the second creature, can instantly teleport behind a random investigator. When the monster gets close enough to an investigator, it will automatically pick him or her up. This component will be familiar to anyone who’s played Friday the 13th or Dead by Daylight. However, wherein the other asymmetrical horror titles offer players an immediate chance of escape on their own, the grapple in White Noise 2 depends entirely on the investigator’s teammates. A meter slowly fills at the bottom of the screen and if enough investigators shine lights on the creature and stun it before the meter fills, the creature will vanish and respawn at a random point on the map. Each investigator will be killed on his or her third time in the monster’s grasp, regardless of teammate involvement. If no teammates are nearby to save the investigator on his or her first two captures, or when the investigator is grabbed for the third time, the meter fills and the creature devours him/her.
This is where White Noise 2 has a stroke of genius.
Dead investigators are revived as ghosts. Ghosts see the level as clear as day and can scout for hidden clues, call investigators to them and even light small fires to illuminate the way. This is a brilliant way to keep unlucky players involved in the game, easily one-upping its predecessors’ spectator modes. However, ghosts cannot collect clues or items nor do they have flashlights. This means there’s one fewer teammate to help save one another from the creature’s grasp. In fact, ghosts cannot see the creature itself, so there’s no spamming the monster with fires or warning the other players it’s coming. All in all, it’s a wonderful balance.
Okay, so that’s the gameplay explained. Still with me? Let’s get to some of the other cool stuff waiting for players in this title.
Surprisingly enough, there are actually several game modes. The standard mode is up-to-4 versus 1, but there’s also a co-op mode in which an AI controls the monster and all four players are investigators. In addition, there’s a solo mode that pits you (the investigator) against one monster. To compensate for your lack of support, the compass cools down far quicker and AI monsters are not as clever or persistent as their player-controlled counterparts.
The graphics are great. Sharp textures and dimly-lit levels complement each other wonderfully. The art style on the characters is just cartoonish enough to add a bit of levity to this otherwise terrifying title. Supernatural events scare the investigators and their vision gets blurred and full of – wait for it – white noise. Each level is rich with objects according to its setting – furniture and endless decanters and books in Usher Manor, hospital beds and wheelchairs in St. John’s Hospital – to encourage careful exploration by players and provide a more lively setting than the all-too-common “empty hallways” of non-combat horror games.
The sound design is also captivating. It provides location-based hints to investigators finding clues and the characters’ limited dialogue (delivered by clicking the right thumb stick contextually or navigating menus with the directional buttons) at least gets the job done, if not exactly award-winning. When investigators pick up tapes (the most common form of clue), an eerie voice oozes macabre dialogue about the situation.
As I mentioned earlier, players level up to unlock characters, skins and flashlights. This obviously comes from earning experience points in every match for finding clues, stunning the monster and helping teammates as an investigator. Monsters earn xp by setting up traps and hurting or killing investigators. I never found this to be too heavy with grinding – after only a couple hours I’d reached level 7 and unlocked two new monsters, three new investigators (and a skin for nearly every investigator) and several new flashlights. This steady release of content will keep gamers playing for hours at a time.
The only complaint I have about White Noise 2 is that more people haven’t bought it yet, which obviously doesn’t reflect on the game itself. Personally I’m amazed it wasn’t picked up by a AAA publisher but instead released by its indie developer Milkstone Games, because it would’ve benefited from the type of marketing campaign that only someone like Ubisoft or Bethesda could afford. Having said that, I hope White Noise 2 picks up a larger audience and matchmaking gets more populated, because it absolutely deserves it.
Asymmetrical action/horror is still new enough that developers continue to iron out the kinks. White Noise 2 doesn’t reinvent the wheel, but that’s because the wheel was just invented a few years ago. What it does do, however, is provide our closest-to-perfection look at what this style of games can provide. It succeeds and exceeds in every aspect of the subgenre, overdelivering on every promise it makes. I’m giving White Noise 2 my first ever perfect score – 10 out of 10. Go buy the game and I’ll look forward to seeing you in its dark, Cthulhu-inspired halls of horror.