And now, Scary-Crayon reviews... the white chamber by: Wes

While I still have yet to play the well-received video game, I have been running across quite a few of NECA's Dead Space figures at Toys "R" Us lately... and since I know very little about the franchise, I decided to watch Dead Space: Downfall, an animated prequel to the game. It was more or less your standard zombie outbreak in space flick -- you've seen it before in a bunch of animes, sci-fi horror films, and at least four episodes of the 2005+ "Doctor Who" series -- but what I found most interesting about it was how strongly it reminded me of The White Chamber, a Windows freeware adventure game by the now-disbanded Studio Trophis.

That looks... painful.

If the title doesn't ring a bell, that's not surprising. No matter how good they are -- and oftentimes they aren't terribly great -- freeware games rarely get much exposure; the only way I found out about it was through a free torrent site, as I was looking for freeware programs (I'm a SourceForge kinda guy) to install on my then-new laptop. Anyway, I enjoyed the game a great deal. I'd even been planning to review it (most of the screencaps in this article are actually ones I took back then), but obviously something distracted me and I never got around to it. Once Dead Space: Downfall brought it back to the forefront of my mind, however, I couldn't help but double-click the game's coffin-shaped shortcut icon -- still conveniently located on my desktop, though I haven't used it in years -- and return to the unsettling realm of The White Chamber.

Why were you in that coffin? That's what we're here to find out!Sharp axes are always handy.

The game begins with your character, a nameless girl drawn in anime style -- complete with snazzy grunge clothing and spiky purple hair! -- waking up in a coffin in a sealed chamber. Once you get the hang of the point-and-click interface (we'll talk more about that in a bit) and manage to escape from the room, a bit of exploration reveals that you seem to be on an abandoned installation of some kind. Things seem normal enough, aside from the apparent state of disrepair and numerous dried blood stains on the floors and walls (it's pretty much my ideal pad), but they quickly become discouraging as you peruse the various documents about the station. The dismembered human body parts you discover aren't especially comforting, either.

There's a way out, but you're not gonna like it...I DON'T THINK YOUR GOD IS LISTENING

And then, at certain points in the game, the landscape suddenly shifts and you find yourself in an even more fucked up version of the place, with gaping chasms and organic-looking tooth-rimmed pits... not to mention red pulpy flesh-covered surfaces and rusted gates and barbed wire and mutilated corpses galore. It's very much out of Silent Hill, though there are Event Horizon touches as well (at one point, you find a note that reads, "Where we're going we won't need eyes"). Granted, you can save the game at any time by pressing Esc or F1 to access the save/load/resume/quit menu, and you can't actually fall into any of the pits (there is one such danger that can kill you, but you really have to be trying to get that result), but these parts can really get the adrenaline pumping even without the immediate threat of death. That's not to say that you can't die in the game, as you totally can. Fortunately, those instances are pretty rare and fairly easy to survive.

Mmm, tasty.Have I impressed you yet, Amy Pond?

The White Chamber also boasts impressive production values -- especially considering that this is a freeware game. With respect to the graphics, the backgrounds are amazing, the lead character looks and moves well (though admittedly her appearance is somewhat generic as far as anime-esque characters go), and there are even several animated cutscenes and ending sequences. The sounds are also stellar; in addition to having atmospheric background music and noise and appropriate, well-done sound effects (the girl's footsteps even resonate differently in accordance with the surface she's walking across), there is a ton of voice acting. For instance, throughout the game, you'll find narrated video logs belonging to one of the former occupants of the installation... but even more impressively, your character actually speaks every line of text that results from observing or touching the various items in the game. There's even the option of English or German speech, and it's separate from the language option -- so you can play through the game with German voices and English "subtitles" (or subtitles in any of the nine supported languages) if you like.

If this were a LucasArts game, the latter half of the screen would be covered with interaction choices.Using an axe on a pipe has never been simpler!

The gameplay is likewise excellent. Granted, The White Chamber is a point-and-click adventure game, so the controls don't need to be especially responsive and there aren't any challenging button sequences to master, but even so the game manages to improve upon the standard adventure game dynamic (though I'm not a dedicated adventure gamer, so I can't say whether the mechanics here are unique or whether they've also appeared in other titles). Whereas object interactions in other games can be fairly complicated by the options of looking at them, pushing them, pulling them, opening them, closing them, and so forth, right-clicking on an object in this game gives you two options: a hand and eye. The eye causes your character to observe the item in question; the hand lets you interact with it in whatever way you can. If it's an object you can pick up, your character will do so; if it's an object you can open, the girl will respond in that way; and if it's a computer, control panel, or other interface that can be used, the hand option will make that happen. Given that I've encountered numerous puzzles in other games that needlessly stumped me because I'd actually determined the solution but was selecting the wrong interaction to get the character to respond accordingly, I find this simpler interaction scheme to be much more appealing. The item usage system is also greatly simplified. Instead of having to use the various interaction choices to spell out a sentence denoting the usage of two items, you move the cursor to the top of the screen to display the inventory. Then, after clicking on the item you wish to use, you just move the cursor to the item (whether it's in the inventory or in the background) with which you wish to use it and click again. All adventure games should be this easy to play!

That's not to say that the game is especially easy, though. Well, it's easy in the sense that it's fairly difficult to die and the puzzles aren't particularly difficult -- as with most adventure games, the greatest challenges stem from overlooking background items and failing to recheck areas following event triggers -- but it's not insultingly simple. If The White Chamber has a flaw, however, it's that the game is pretty short. While my initial playthrough probably took me a bit longer, experienced adventure gamers will probably be able to fully experience the game -- not only solving all of the puzzles, but reading all of the documents and viewing the video logs -- and still complete it in under an hour. And if you know precisely what to do, skip listening to all of the dialogue, and don't bother with the expository items, you can beat the game in less than fifteen minutes.

Sucks to be you.

Granted, there is some replay value. Depending upon your choices at various points in the game, you can get one of four endings (two bad, one good, and one quite goofy... and that's not even counting the multiple death "endings"), and each one is accompanied by the revelation of a different easter egg or cheat that you can try during subsequent playthroughs. As noted earlier, if you enjoy the voice acting (it is quite good), you might also find it fun to play through the game in English and in German... and if you can read multiple European languages, you might find some enjoyment in playing with the text in various languages as well. And there are quite a few fun things that, for whatever reason, you might find it entertaining to see again!

It goes without saying, then, that I strongly recommend stepping into The White Chamber. Yeah, the overall experience is fairly brief -- but during the time you spend immersed in that creepy world, your eyes and ears will be both delighted and unnerved... and your curiosity will be piqued by the events that unfold and the secrets that you uncover. And besides, it's free, so what have you got to lose? Swing by the Studio Trophis downloads section and grab The White Chamber today! Where you're going... you won't need eyes.

-- Wes --
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