Science fiction and horror go surprisingly hand-in-hand. Whether the horror comes from our own creations turning on us (such as Shodan or AM ) or from having to watch all of our creations, no matter how powerful or piercing, fail us as the unknown overwhelm us (Dead Space). Of course, as real life often teaches us, sometimes real horror comes not from the unknown in the vastness of space or the recesses of our imagination but rather the horror that hides within us on the subconscious level. What horrors can man fathom and do when desire overtakes duty, and cruelty overcomes compassion? Now what if you could walk within that nightmarish dreamscape? What if this hellish place left you alone in a metal tomb, over a hundred light years from anyone who could help you escape? Well then you might be in the shoes of the protagonist of the classic freeware game: The White Chamber .
The White Chamber is the only game by Studio Trophis, a small independent developer that mostly makes short animations. Originally created as a fairly ambitious student project, the game has you play as a girl with amnesia who wakes up inside a tomb aboard a space station that is in a decaying orbit with a distant planet. As you explore, you find that the communication equipment has been destroyed and there are fresh bloodstains all over the station, as though you just missed a series of violent slayings. When you try to return to the tomb you woke up in, the elevator control has been smashed and a message has been scrawled on it in blood: “NO GOING BACK.” It soon becomes clear that you are not alone and whatever it is plans to make you suffer.
As I hope that description made clear, The White chamber is a heavily atmospheric game. In fact, atmosphere is the game’s greatest strength. The space station gives a great feeling of isolation and even when the scary stuff isn’t happening, the tension is always palpable as you explore for items. It also makes the “shit hits the fan” moments all the more eerie as the sterile environment you’ve grown comfortable with warps into a hellish landscape that has human organs for computer cables and endless hallways and demonic beings litter the station. While the late 80s-early 90s anime character designs can clash with the atmosphere, the rest of the art style works to enhance the mood.
Another of the game’s strengths is the sheer amount of effort that went into the game’s creation. Not only is this game’s text translated into nine different languages but there is voice work (yes, voice work) done in both English and German. Couple this with the short animations that play every so often and it is an extremely impressive feat for a game that started as a student project. The animations aren’t bad either and look like something that would have been on the Sega Saturn back in its heyday. Not to mention, there are eight endings and a number of fun easter eggs that the developers threw in that make replays even more interesting. All in all, Studo Trophis put a lot of effort into a game that they released for free.
There isn’t much to say about the gameplay really. It’s standard point-and-click so everything is done with a mouse. The puzzles are mostly logical, with the exception of one puzzle that has your character in a death trap, the only time a puzzle is put on a time limit. This puzzle does kind of make sense in retrospect, it can be tough to think in the way the game wants you too while your character is being electrocuted. On the whole though, the gameplay is fine.
Still, while this is a good game overall, it does have several flaws. For one thing, the voice acting is very hit or miss. Sometimes it manages to effectively convey how your character is feeling while other times it gets ridiculous with how nonchalant your character is when she accidently sucks a corpse through a grinder. Also, the plot is rather weak. Without spoiling anything, let’s just say there is both a mysterious artifact and the game is influenced by the Silent Hill series…that probably let you figure out the general direction of the plot and it doesn’t do much to try and put a twist on anything. Also, the two real endings (most of the others are just your character dying) are determined by questions…AT THE BEGINNING OF THE GAME. Your actions in the game have no impact on which of the two endings you get, there are just two points in the game where you will be asked questions and your answers will determine what ending you get. This is really annoying, even though repeated playthroughs will take less than an hour each.
Overall, The White Chamber is an extremely impressive project for such a small group to produce. It has some genuine scares and a nice amount of replayability. While it is marred by the method its endings are chosen by and the plot isn’t that good, it’s the perfect game to play late at night when the only other sound is the wind howling around your house. You should definitely give it a playthrough.