Like any other form of art, video games provide a way for one to express his or herself, with the same being true of both big and small groups. This is very evident throughout the genre, but is honestly more apparent in the indie space than anywhere else, and for obvious reasons. In fact, there are few better recent examples than White Shadows, which comes to us as the first effort from Monokel, which was formed in 2015.

Released near the tail end of 2021, White Shadows is a very interesting and unforgettable experience, and it’s the visuals that will stick with me over the gameplay. It’s obvious that the developers had something to say, and that’s exactly what they did, through this interactive format.

Putting this thing into words is going to be tough, because it’s just so damned dark, unique and weird. At its roots, though, are sad and depressing themes like forced labour, racism and cruelty. As I said above, this is a game with a message, and it’s not shy about ruffling some feathers.

White Shadows begins with a ring, before we see our heroine, Ravengirl, enter into this monochrome world. From there, we’re in charge of controlling this plague doctor mask wearing bird, as she navigates a treacherous city with LIMBO style mechanics. The result is a dark platformer with puzzle elements, although when I use the term puzzle I often mean light ones. In fact, I felt as if this title transitioned from the puzzler it was to more of an interactive experience as I got closer to the end. As such, those who suck at puzzle games — like myself, as they’re actually one of my least favourite types — shouldn’t worry about getting stuck. There’s only one or two slightly tricky parts, and you’ll likely figure them out. If not, guides are plentiful.

Examples of these puzzles include using moveable boxes to reach previously unreachable platforms, creating a battery out of an unlikely source, and pausing time to line up moving objects to elicit a continuous response. Most of the two or three hours you’ll spend with this game, though, will involve walking, climbing, jumping and avoiding deadly traps.

Along the way, chicks will follow Ravengirl, and will even sacrifice themselves to protect her, albeit likely not on purpose. You see, White Shadows takes place within a dystopian, post-war world that promotes the ideology that all animals are equal. However, this respect and pleasantry doesn’t actually apply to the birds, whom are treated like third rate creatures, abused and killed at will by the other animals who inhabit this almost steampunk city. Those include rats, pigs and wolves.

By the time you’re finished guiding Ravengirl through this sunless city and its myriad of girders, you’ll have survived the trials of a macabre game show, decided the fate of other beings and participated in an interactive play. Through all of this, you’ll get a good sense for the disturbing world in which these characters live, and the history of what led to it. However, if you go in expecting something easy to follow, simple and hit-you-over-the-head obvious, you won’t find it here. This is a surrealist experience, and one that doesn’t always make the most sense. It’s even got a strange ending that will leave you thinking.

For these reasons, I’m glad that I took this review on and experienced what White Shadows had to offer, because it’s unlike almost every game I’ve ever played. Sure, it’s mechanically similar to LIMBO, and features a similar art style where black and white are the predominant shades and pops of colour are rare but meaningful. However, the last several chapters were so strange and surreal that I find it hard to bring comparisons to mind.

As a game, though, White Shadows is somewhat lacking. While I don’t mean to lessen the work that went into it, this game’s mechanics feel more like a way to push the story forward than the focus. They’re also rough around the edges, with controls that aren’t always as responsive as one would like. For a title that awards achievements for not dying during certain puzzles, this has more of an effect, but twitch gameplay and fast reflexes are things that are rarely needed or encountered within this work. The focus, first and foremost, is on experiencing what the writers and art team have created with limited colour and almost no words, outside of slogans and advertisements you’ll see throughout the city. There is some story related text to read, but even it’s minimal.

I died every possible way in this game, and sometimes it was my fault, be it not understanding what to do at first, taking chances with an oncoming train or simply pressing down and falling off of the chain I was holding onto above a whirring blade. Other times, I felt like the controls led to my deaths. It wasn’t a big deal, though, because checkpoints were plentiful — in fact, there’s 20 of them — and dying wasn’t punished much.

With all that having been said, I must admit that White Shadows is a tough title to score. It’s something I won’t soon forget, but is also more of a visual experience than it is a great video game. Its presentation, which mixes dark subject matter with monochrome visuals and iconic classical music, is worth your time and effort alone, but the core gameplay is rough around the edges. On top of this, it’s not the type of thing that the average gamer will enjoy, and will be appreciated most by a certain type of player, especially those who are mature enough to handle it.

I’m glad I played it, though, and would recommend checking it out when you have the time and money, or when it’s cheap.

This review is based on the Xbox Series S version of the game, which we were provided with.

 

White Shadows Review
White Shadows is something you won't soon forget. It's an interactive experience unlike almost any other, and isn't afraid to tackle difficult subject matter along the way.
Visuals83%
Audio80%
Gameplay59%
Storyline83%
The Good Stuff
  • Unique experience
  • Not too challenging puzzle wise
  • Doesn't overstay its welcome
The Not-So-Good Stuff
  • The platforming can be cumbersome
  • Will only appeal to more mature gamers looking for something different
  • Not always clear as to where to go, especially at the end
76%Overall Score
Reader Rating: (0 Votes)
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