22nd Aug2017

‘White Day: A Labyrinth Named School’ Review (PS4)

by Matthew Smail

white-day-key-art

As far as walking simulators go, White Day: A Labyrinth Named School easily ranks among the scariest that I’ve ever played, and believe it or not, it’s actually one of the oldest. You see the 2017 PS4 version of White Day is actually a remake – a remake of a remake in fact. The original game was launched in 2001, before the term walking simulator was even used. Since then, there have been several mobile ports and a 2009 PC remaster, but this is in fact the first time that the game has made it onto a home console.

The PS4 version features enhanced graphics and a smattering of new content, but I was curious about how well the gameplay would hold up in comparison to more modern walking simulators and survival horror games. To its credit, White Day uses a number of techniques that belie its age, and whilst never revolutionary, many of these are features that are strangely absent in similar, modern games.

Take, for example, the game structure. Walking simulators often feature little or no replay value, with few collectibles, a fixed layout and perhaps one or two endings at best. White Day prides itself on offering just the opposite. The school in which the game takes place has a fixed layout, but puzzle, key and collectible locations are randomly generated, whilst the game also features no less than eight possible endings.

I suppose for these reasons (and because it predates the recognition of the genre) it’s unfair to label White Day a walking simulator, and yet that is very much how it plays. The player controls Hui-min Lee, a student and recent arrival at the school who is on a mission to deliver a gift to his crush, So-young Han for White Day, which is a traditional Korean festival that follows a month after Valentine’s Day.

Unfortunately, Hui-min find himself trapped in the school shortly after arriving, and upon discovering that So-young and two of her friends are also in the same predicament, he sets about finding them a way out. This is no pedestrian walk through an abandoned school however, and Hui-min must contend with both a range of supernatural threats and the (only slightly) more mundane one posed by the schools janitor.

As with most similar games nowadays (but rare in the 2001 original) Hui-min has access to weapons, and when he sees the limping, determined figure of the janitor, the player has no choice but to turn tail and run. This is a somewhat random event, however the janitor has a habit of appearing right down the corridor whenever you open the door to a new area. Outrunning him is hard enough, but he’s also a real pain to hide from, and if you haven’t already got an escape route planned and the doors to rooms you plan to hide in open, he’ll usually catch you and beat Hui-min to death with his baseball bat.

Supernatural threats are usually less direct than the janitor, and it can be hard to tell when you are under threat from one at all. Usually, a change in the intensity and tone of the superb background music is the cue, and often if you move away from wherever you were when the music began, you can escape the threat. If you don’t, you might find yourself in for nothing worse than a jump scare, but poor Hui-min will take damage and blood splatter will appear on screen. Soy milk, canned coffee and other delicacies return him to normal health, but on anything aside from the easiest difficulty it is simply best to avoid being hurt if you can.

There are some more confrontational and arguably terrifying enemies to encounter inWhite Day, but I’m not going to spoil them here. Needless to say, the horror aspects in this game are of the East-Asian kind, so at the very least expect drowned teenage girls clawing their way through your TV. OK, not quite, but the imagery of movies like Ring is certainly present, and there were several parts in White Day that made the hairs on the back of my neck stand on end.

The music, as I’ve already mentioned, plays no small part in how scary White Day is, and whilst it does eventually become repetitive, it always keeps you on the edge of your seat. As a westerner, the instruments used to make the chilling soundtrack were unfamiliar to me, and the staccato, unusual notes combined with the dark, lonely visuals was a perfect mix for a horror game. When enemies do appear on screen, the timing in accordance with the music is note perfect, and it made me jump almost every time.

Where visuals are concerned, White Day is not spectacular, but certainly not too shabby either. The characters look fairly realistic, with slightly stylised human features on their faces. The three girls who accompany the school Hui-min are each distinctive, whilst the janitor’s limp characterises both his look and the sound he makes when patrolling corridors or pursuing the player. Ghosts vary from faces that flash briefly on screen to hideous, lifelike caricatures of their formerly living selves, and all look exactly as they should.

I haven’t completed White Day anywhere near the suggested number of times needed to see every ending, but each time I played it I did find the randomisation features neat enough that I felt rewarded for exploration. Items often appear in the same kind of location, but they are generally spread thinly enough that you’ll still comb every nook and cranny, and that is where White Day’s biggest failing also lies.

The school is big, empty and often, dull. There are long corridors full of similar rooms, and you can go for prlonged periods of time without either a collectible or a puzzle to solve. These periods are often broken up by ghost encounters, or visits from the janitor, but how often do you want to run away from a bloke who almost always catches you because anyway? There are no hiding places like cupboards in White Day like there are in similar, newer games like Outlast.

In the end, it is this feeling of boredom and repetition that lets White Day down, and so whilst I would classify it as a poor survival horror by modern standards, it is still scary if played as a walking simulator. Layers of Fear is better looking, scarier and more imaginative, as is Amnesia, but White Day isn’t far behind either of these games, and the unique Korean music and art style bring something different and scary in their own right.

*** 3/5

White Day: A Labyrinth Named School is available on Steam from today; the game comes to PS4 on August 25th.

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