White starts as it means to go on: making no sense. You are nothing more than a floating gun in the corner of the screen, an inch-high non-character spawned and stranded on an enormous blank canvas suspended in someone’s clutter-strewn shed. Almost immediately, the mass murder of bipedal sacks of paint begins. Oh, and there’s a gun that shoots paintbrushes.
It’s pretty mad. More specifically it’s a free-to-play product of four month’s worth of graft and brain-juice from students at ENJMIN Graduate School of Games and Interactive Media, France. It’s a first person shooter that, according to the game’s site, is based on “both the player’s violence and creativity”. Even this pitch sounds peculiar – does it have applications in anger management therapy? – yet in practice, it’s simple. White boils down to shooting up a horde of what are essentially living lumps of poster paint, spilling their ‘blood’ onto the canvas to create lovely patterns with only slightly morbid undertones.
The creatures are actually pretty cute. They waddle around, affectionately headbutt each other like chubby cats, and even hum along to the looped soundtrack (which successfully burrowed into my head and is currently comfortably occupying the space in my brain where pleasant silence used to be). Of course, to realise the artistic vision being projected onto the canvas/game area, they must die. The splodges and streaks they leave upon death are chunky and bright (though the game’s palette is sufficiently varied, a good few combinations of greys, blacks and lighter hues being selectable from the main menu), though aspiring FPS artists looking for more subtle strokes may be out of luck.
That said, there are a decent number of ways to put paint-blood to paper, and they all require mastery of White’s weapons. Not burdened by finite ammo, most are based on standard shooter staples – besides the aforementioned full auto paintbrush gun (leaves a dotted trail of paint behind the injured blob as it runs for its life), there’s a bamboo shotgun (instant splat) and a timed grenade launcher (slightly longer, larger splat). The best toys are more even weirder – there’s the boulder launcher, which leaves a satisfyingly broad streak of whatever the rock hits, and a mysterious magnet device. A home-made copy of Half-Life 2’s Gravity Gun, it mainly picks up and throws the paint creatures to position them as you please, but right-clicking shoots a harmless stun attack to make them stay put while you line up a flying boulder. It feels like it was added specifically to fix a couple of frustrating scenarios – still-living blobs of the wrong size or colour getting in the way, and blobs of the right size and colour wandering off before getting the chance to paint with their insides. It succeeds at solving both with relative ease, and combined with the muffled yelps of the blobs as they’re electromagnetically hurled across the canvas, makes it both the only non-painting weapon and easily the most fun to use.
In fact, it’s likely to see a lot of use once the novelty of painting with bullets wears off. Since the longevity of White depends entirely on the player’s desire to create a nice-looking static image (they can be quickly saved and, if desired, uploaded, though judging by the number of thumbs up/down ratings on White’s homepage, not exactly to the appreciation and adoration of thousands), those with shorter attention spans will find the repetitive aspects get tedious quickly. Luckily the different weapon abilities and sheer dumb entertainment of the magnet allows for enough flexibility to make your own minigames as well as infant-like doodles. I was fond of drawing a target using the paintbrush SMG’s bleed effect then chasing the victim in a circle, before attempting bullseyes by flinging his friends onto it from increasingly ridiculous distances.
Even considering the singular mechanic and tablespoon-like depth, White is a literal art game that makes too many concessions to fun to judge it harshly. My incoherent scribbles may uniformly suck, but once more people get to grips with the unique method of applying the creativity it thrives on we can surely expect to see some brilliant creations. The fact that it was made in a matter of weeks by a team of eight students makes it all the more impressive. You can face the madness yourself by visiting White’s website.